Talk:Magic and religion

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I have removed the following:

In no case can either Wicca, or NeoPaganism be correctly identified with Satanism, which owes its structure and memes primarily to inversions of monotheistic texts.

as it is entirely POV in regards to Satanism. ArtsyF3ck

I remnoved the following sentence from the article:

Examples of the suppression of magical belief and practice range from the eradication of neighboring polytheistic tribes by the early Hebrews

There are three reasons that I removed this: (A) the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) does not state that practioners of magic must be exterminated, anywhere. It does say that certain pagan tribes, which it described as heinously immoral, should be wiped out....but... (B) Although the Tanakh starts out by saying that the Israelites waged a war which wipied out certain pagan tribes, the later books of this same Bible admit that these tribes never were wiped out. According to the Bible, the extermination never occured. (C) Modern historical studies deny that the Israelites came into the land of Canaan as a large army and wiped out all these tribes. So the claim has no support. RK

Although the Tanakh starts out by saying that the Israelites waged a war which wipied out certain pagan tribes, the later books of this same Bible admit that these tribes never were wiped out. According to the Bible, the extermination never occured. What you seem to be saying is that according to the Bible, the extermination both did and did not occur. That is, the larger work "the Tanakh" includes both claims. Is there any reason to prefer your interpretation (that the "earlier" parts of the Bible assert exterminations which did not happen, and "later" ones correct this) over the obvious contrary (that "earlier" parts of the Bible correctly describe exterminations which "later" authors wished to deny ever happened)? --FOo
The Torah (first five books of the Bible) uses rhetorical devices such as exagerration on many subjects, not just on this one. For example, consider the obvious exageration that some 600,000 adult males (implying a total population of about 2 million Israelites) left Egypt and entered the land of Canaan. We know now that this massive exodus could not have happened; the population of Canaan at this time was about 50,000, and didn't greatly increase during this time. (A smaller exodus, however, certainly could have taken place, and I believe did take place.) Most historians now agree that the Hebrew Bible is not very good history, and probably was never intended for this purpose (i.e. serious history as we know it today) to begin with. RK
Your suggestion that later authors wish to deny certain facts is incorrect. Later biblical authors just reported something a bit more accurate. When you live among the pagan tribes of Canaan, it is hard to claim that they don't exist, because they were all wiped out! We cannot make historical claims based on a few sentences in the Torah (i.e. that the Israelites exterminated certain native pagan tribes of Canaan) and ignore the rest of the Bible (which admits that the extermination didn't occur), and ignore the other archaelogical evidence. Check out the Anchor Bible commentary (Doubleday), or any other critical historical studies of these books; they will blow your mind. By the way, this is not to say that everything in the Bible is false, either. See The Bible and history for more on this topic. RK

"However this view is an ethnocentric one". This statement is totally POV.

I was very pleased to see the redirect to Magic (paranormal) removed, and I don't have any strong objections to the modifications that are now being made to Magic (religion), at least not at this time. Rather, I just did a cut and paste of a previous version of this article that seemed to capture the essence of what the Magic (religion) article was before the redirect was established to Magic (paranormal). However, I must say that magical beliefs and practices are part and parcel of monotheistic religions, notwithstanding the fact that monotheism often associates magical practices with "evildoers." On this note, any extended discussion of black magic in the context of monotheism should probably be moved to the article on Witchcraft. -- NetEsq 17:35 Mar 18, 2003 (UTC)

More kudos! Renaming the article from Magic (religion) to Magic and religion put this article into its proper context, i.e., the anthropology of religion. -- NetEsq 01:00 Mar 20, 2003 (UTC)

The section called Related religious practices is a bit flaky, especially in the phony analysis of how "ritual" differs. "Related" according to whom? certainly not religious people. Mkmcconn 05:20, 26 Oct 2003 (UTC)

I would simply like to point out at the moment that not all researchers in this particular field agree that magic is a notion that can be dubbed universal that easily; a main caveat is that we should not use our own 21st century preconceptions on the matter to dub anything that would appear as affecting reality through paranormal means as magic; e.g. singing a sort of prayer over a wound, so that it would heal, was standard medical practice in classical Athens (ca 5th cent BC) that was by no means to be ommitted by the physician tending said wound; but then again we have the hippocratic "on the Sacred Disease" which is in part a polemic against people professing to be able to cure not through medicine, but through magical means, such as spells and incantations; yet Hippocrates does not condemn the singing over the wound I just mentioned, he probably did it himself.

The opinion of certain influential reasearchers on the matter (e.g. Dickie "Magic and Magicians in the Greco-Roman World" (2001), or Graf "Gottesnaehe und Schadenzauber" (1996)) is roughly that "magic" as a category of thought evolved in a Greek environment at ca 5th cent. BC. What really constitutes magic is an array of mainly foreign religious practices that are not endorsed by state religion and are thus regarded as unclean. The terms also used to describe a sorcerer are terms of abuse (magos, pharmakos, etc), and calling someone a sorcerer is a grave insult. So in a nutshell the fundamental difference between religion and magic is that magicians indulge themselves in unclean religious practices, whereas pious individuals have nothing to do with sorcerers and practise accepted ceremonies. If we follow this train of thought we will be hard pressed to term, say, shamanistic practices as magic.

I am not taking a firm position on the matter, as I have a lot of study to do yet on it; but I would like this post to serve as a caveat for those interested that we should not apply our rationalist prejudices on ancient "irrational" matters like magic, but we should try to think more like the actual people of the era that a particular notion is first applied. Lucius Domitius 22:06, 30 October 2005 (UTC)

Recent Rewrite[edit]

This article reads like an essay. Heck, even if sources were found, this entire article should have "in the minds of some modern pagans" or the like prefacing it. Now, don't get me wrong, normally beliefs, correct or false, are worthy of being reported on- hence all the fun articles on Norse mythology and certain modern religions of dubious legitimacy. But some very strong statements are simply asserted here as fact. The assumption seems to be that there's "true" magic, and then evil religion stamping it out (so too were shamans and adepts devolved into priests and a priestly caste.). Plus, apparently monotheism is locked into some kind of intractable battle with magic (maaaaaybe you can say that about Abrahamic religions, but "monotheism" is way too wide a net).

I tried to talk about magic in the context of all religions, not merely paganism as the old article was. Sadly, I don't know so much about many Eastern religions; if anyone can put in more details on Buddhism and Shinto and the like, that'd be great. SnowFire 18:19, 26 June 2006 (UTC)'s edit.[edit]

I don't see what was gained by having lots of tiny paragraphs; the intent of the original grouping was to trace "standard" sacrifice through history, then trace human sacrifice and attitudes. That's lost by making each stand alone.

Anyway, I worked in the comments on Asatru and the like, but I left one comment out:

In Nigeria human sacrifice with the belief of good fortune and wealth is return is a form of common black magick.

First off, the grammar is off here, as this sentence doesn't entirely make sense (I assume you mean "returned", but even then, it isn't well-written). Secondly, this is a really strong claim- human sacrifice is common? If this is true, then at least link to another Wikipedia article on it, even if you can't source it. Strong claims require sources.

(By the way, I do have some sources on the cite request for the moloch, but sadly, the moloch article has suffered some linkrot. I'll see if I can dig up the names of the historians who commented that, but really, it's not exactly a leap if you accept the moloch theory in the first place, which is the disputed part.) SnowFire 16:09, 24 August 2006 (UTC)

There is no "Magic" religion. There are religions that have beliefs in supernatural paranormal, magick (as in personal manifestation), miracles etc. But there is no "Magic religion," as such. You can only refer to religions that have beliefs in magic, and even then you have to define what magic is. I.E. is there a difference between Jesus preforming a healing miracle, and having his prayers answered, than a Wiccan casting a spell for someone to be healed, and having the spell take effect? It is not the religions themselves, but how we use them, manipulate the priniciples of that religion to state what we would like it to state, misinterpret the messages of those religions, that determines the true magic of any religion. You cannot discuss magic as a religion, but you can discuss the principles of various types of "magics (incl. spells and/or miracles)," within various religious philosophies, doctrines and teachings. The article is better titled "Magic within religion..." Which religion is magical or non-magical. Even evolution theories seem pretty magical to me.

I might be missing something, but how does "Magic and religion" imply that there is such a thing as a "magic religion"? Fuzzypeg 06:54, 23 May 2007 (UTC)

Magic pitted against religion[edit]

User:Kismetmagic has made extensive changes to this article to create a polarised distinction between magic and religion (the former being exclusively supplicatory, the latter exclusively manipulative, we are told). There are no references given to support this extreme distinction, and it doesn't reflect the current widespread academic view that religion and magic can have quite blurred boundaries. We can find plenty of examples of supplicatory magic and manipulative religion in ancient theurgy, shamanistic folk magic and ceremonial magic.

The eminent scholar of late antiquity religions, Ramsey MacMullen, states:

"In my survey of assimilation, these later pages on magic may need two words of explanation. The first is today easily offered, where, even a generation ago, it would have required considerable discussion: namely the relationship between magic and religion and the exact meaning of the two terms. For historians of the west, knowing only their own discipline and only the one Judeo-Christian religious tradition, these matters used to be intellectually as well as theologically indigestible. Now, the lessons of anthropology grown familiar, it is common to accept the impossibility of separating magic from religion and to move on to more interesting subjects." (MacMullen, Ramsay, Christianity & Paganism in the Fourth to Eigth Centuries, Yale University Press, New Haven CT, 1997, pp. 143-144)

In the absence of any cited sources, I'm reverting these changes as original research. Fuzzypeg 22:41, 6 July 2008 (UTC)

I should note, I don't think the article was perfect before Kismetmagic's changes... It needs a lot of tightening up, correction and referencing! I don't think the addition of uncited essays is the road to improvement, though. Fuzzypeg 23:02, 6 July 2008 (UTC)

I've also removed the CS Lewis quote, since it doesn't relate to either Judaism's avoidance of persecuting others, or the belief of various Christian sects that magicians and consorts of demons should be saved, not killed. It would be relevant to a discussion of whether any greater moral maturity is shown by a religion that has ceased persecuting simply because it has ceased believing in the powers of the persecuted, but that's not under discussion anywhere in this article. Remember that interpretation or synthesis of distinct ideas also falls under the category of original research. Perhaps you want to start a section on the morality of persecution of magic (a can of worms?), or else check out the Witch-hunt article... Fuzzypeg 23:15, 6 July 2008 (UTC)

Fuzzypeg: Would you give some examples of "supplicatory magic" and "manipulative religion?" I don't doubt people are confused by the distinction between religion and magic and others, for personal reasons, wish to blur the distinction, but the truth is there is a difference. There are many examples of magic used in religions but inevitable these are examples of folk religion as opposed to theology but these are inevitably counseled against. (i.e., jinn in Islam, the "kenahora" in Judaism and the use of St. Joseph statues in Catholicism to "sell real estate.") Thomas Merton, the 20th century's greatest spiritual mind, specifically distinguished between the two saying that a manipulative magic seeks benefits for the individual by wresting them from God, nature, the Fates, etc. Religion, on the other hand, is an emptying experience in which one gives of oneself to others without expectation of recompense and the dissolution of the self. This is mirrored in Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism and Christianity, among other religions. --Kismetmagic (talk) 02:45, 16 July 2008 (UTC)KismetMagic

Thomas Merton's definition of 'religion' fits more or less with the examples of religions that you've chosen, although it falls toward the extreme ascetic end of the spectrum with "dissolution of the self" and no "expectation of recompense". I don't think the majority of adherents of the religions you've mentioned would describe things in quite the same way though. He basically describes an extreme form of supplication, and by that definition of religion, of course religion is always supplicatory!
Whether or not he's 'the 20th century's greatest spiritual mind', he's not in agreement with academic historians of magic and religion, who acknowledge that drawing a hard and fast distinction between religion and magic is a hang-over from the Christian-centric world-view, and that such a distinction is actually very difficult to draw. Georg Luck, Professor Emeritus at Johns Hopkins University:
"How did ancient concepts and rituals that many would call 'magical' today survive in early Christianity? Did they really survive? This subject is obviously open to controversy. Much depends on our understanding of magic versus religion. We have seen how difficult it is to draw the line and how much of what seems magic to one culture is religion to another. To put labels on anything that people believe in and are devoted to is awkward, and we can only do it from our own point of view, but we have to try. How could a Christian of the second century distinguish between supernatural phenomena that came from heaven and those that were caused by daemons? How could one know whether something was a true miracle or a trick of magic? What was the essential difference in meaning between the nocturnal visit of a saint and that of an evil spirit, between a pagan amulet and a relic that was carried away from a Christian sanctuary?"(Luck (1985) Arcana Mundi pp.457-8)
Luck describes numerous examples of Christian operations that would have been called magical, had they been performed by pagans. For instance, Saint Hilarion of Thavatha ensures the success of a Christian charioteer in a chariot race by sprinkling him, his horse and his chariot with holy water while invoking the name of Jesus. (luck p. 463) Ensuring the success of one's favourite chariot team was a major preoccupation in pagan magic as well, with many charms to this end having been discovered.
Weather magic was popular since the beginning of civilisation, and the Church at first had nothing to replace it with, so had to tolerate such practises. Eventually it developed its own procedures based on the doctrine that God is Lord over the weather and that he can punish his enemies by sending thunderstorms. At times, weather magic was officially prohibited, but in practice it was allowed, and it involved prayers, rites and relics, the waving of consecrated palm branches, ringing of bells, and the use of the gemma ceraunia or thunder stone, a magical relic of paganism. (Luck, p. 464)
Even ritual curses were adopted by the Church, and a number of unrepentant pagans were cursed by Peter and Paul. Christian curse tablets (tabellae defixionum) were used at least until the 6th century. (Luck, pp. 467-8)
Christians employed a wide variety of charms, which worked by virtue of some dynamis or inner power: crosses, the fish, names of angels, the "One God" formula, the words "Amen Halleluia", invocation of the "Blood of Christ"; passages from the gospels, sometimes housed in golden cases, healing amulets, called epidesmata or ligaturae (almost identical in form and function to pagan healing amulets), the common enkolpion, a cross-shaped locket containing a relic and used for protection from illness. Houses sometimes had protective phylacteries attached, inscriptions that might read "Abraham lives here" to ward away daemons who might be scared of meeting the old testament patriarch. The pagan equivalent typically read "Heracles lives here". (Luck, p. 467)
You've asked for examples of "supplicatory magic" and "manipulative religion". As I mentioned above, ancient theurgy, shamanistic folk magic and ceremonial magic provide various examples. The pagan practice of Theurgy was intended to "work on the deity" and "make man divine"; to achieve mystic union with the deity; to obtain messages from a higher world; and to animate the icon or statue of the deity.
"... theurgy should be understood in the sense of “working on” or even “creating” the gods, thus emphasizing the role of the theurgist as the principal agent ... But theurgy involves more than just “working on” the gods; it also involves the active participation of the gods themselves. Theurgy, then, can best be characterized as “divine action,” since theurgy properly involves not only “divine actions” on the part of men, but the “action of the Divine” on behalf of men. ... Theurgy, therefore, should be regarded basically as a religious phenomenon, albeit one that is comfortable with the outward forms of magic. (Ruth Majercik (1989) The Chaldean Oracles, 22-23)
We can find examples in other religions that have a magical element to them, such as Haitian Vodou: practitioners worship the Lwa, the spirits, basically as deities. They make supplication to the Lwa, and offer themselves as vehicles for divine posession, so that the Lwa can for a time experience being in the world, eating, drinking, dancing. The Lwa, on the other hand, give their worshippers all kinds of aid in the problems of day-to-day life. The priesthood, however, while still honouring the Lwa, are conferred the ability to constrain them; essentially they are given an almost god-like status, and are able to travel back to Guinea, the spiritual land of the Lwa and the ancestors. Furthermore, there is the understanding that a human can, after death, become a Lwa, and can occasionally even become a great Lwa. This all accords with Luck's explanation of Theurgia as really being a form of shamanism, a process of allowing humanity to "return to our true fathers, the gods".
Ceremonial magic, a branch of hermeticism, is another similar example. God is revered as the ultimate source, and the ultimate substance of everything; therefore each individual contains divinity, though this is obscured in most people. The goal of the ceremonial magician is to fully express his inner divinity and become united with God; he makes no distinction between miracle and magic, for the magic he performs is of divine origin anyway, and is therefore also miracle. Many ceremonial magicians see God not so much as an active 'personality', but more as a great limitless source of energy which they are harnessing; through divine names and symbols they manipulate the various emanations of this energy to do their bidding. Some ceremonial magicians observe strong ethical codes; others are interested in nothing more than the "Great Work", i.e. union with godhead, and some don't even see any real distinction between good and evil.
So these give you a few examples. You can find many more, especially in the field of anthropology. Magical religions are found in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America... I hope some of this helps. Fuzzypeg 01:49, 17 July 2008 (UTC)'

If you look in the Christian Bible, there are plenty of examples of things that could be considered "magic." Namely, there is a passage where an old man calls on God to maul a bunch of impertinent teenagers with bears. Leviticus 15:28 to 15:30 details a religious ritual for cleansing a woman some days after menstruation by having a priest sacrifice two doves to Yahweh (one by burning). Other religious practices involving the eucharist or holy water also counts as "magic." Moses was pretty much a case of showing off god's powers to try and impress the Pharaoh. Jesus went around doing all sorts of magical things (i.e. walking on water, turning water into wine and laying on hands to cure the sick). The only distinction between this and other folk traditions and religious beliefs is that Christians, past and present, see no problem with any of this and arbitrarily call them "miracles." But there's really no reason to distinguish Christian magical beliefs from those of any other religion or culture. Nor can you say that the Abrahamic religions counsels against *all* magic. They just counsel against magic that isn't their own.

Style and Content[edit]

Much of this article reads like an essay. There is a good deal of valuable information so I have refrained from tagging with the Essay-like banner but the tone needs to be formalized and make less use of weasel-word constructions.

The last section "Magic and the Abrahamic Religions" negates its own purpose by drawing special attention to these three religions for their supposedly noteworthy rejections of witchcraft, then closes by saying that their attitude is neither remarkable nor uncommon in comparison to other religions. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Reaster (talkcontribs) 04:49, 18 December 2009 (UTC)

Yes, somewhat essayish. I instead used {{citations needed}}. The article is biased towards a modern sociological agnostic or atheistic view onto religion and magic, but abrahamite religions have their own view on what constitute magic, much more like using supernatural evil demons to achieve an alleged good, while the abrahamite "righteous" restrict themselves to repel supernatural evil demons. Kind of. Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 14:10, 3 June 2010 (UTC)

in regards to's edit[edit]

I would sponsor the addition of the plausible comments made in regard to the attitude of the Abrahamic religions towards witchcraft. with the addition of a needs source notification.

Abrahamic Religion and Magic[edit]

I removed much of the 'information' from that section as nonsourced, and mostly inaccurate. However, there certainly is information that could be added reflecting the development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam's relationship with Magic and magical practices. See Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition: Hermetic mysticism spread into Islam, and is responsible in large part for the Muslim relationship with certain magical rituals. Judaism is against magic per se, but many Kabbalistic texts (see Raziel HaMalach) seem to be spellbooks of a sort. Obviously, Augustine's anti-hermetic position seems to have carried the day in the Catholic Church - but not entirely. There is a good deal of subtlety to the Catholic history vis a vis Magic and mysticism. I will try to return to this. But any help will be appreciated. --Kabir Talat (talk) 16:37, 18 May 2010 (UTC)

Magic vs. Mysticism[edit]

Isn't "mysticism" a better word here. It's my understanding that magic is more associated with trickery while mysticism is more directly someone believing something happens contrary to scientific nature. I propose that the article be renamed and rewritten to reflect this opinion. I'll see about starting the discussion.--FUNKAMATIC ~talk 01:23, 28 November 2014 (UTC)

New sections go at the bottom. Mysticism doesn't necessarily involve believing something contrary to scientific law. Science can explain a vision of divinity as a hallucination, and the believer is capable of accepting that God chose to speak to them through the hallucination. The difference between a vision and hallucination is merely what qualitative meaning it is given, not the actual scientific mechanism. Also, there are a number of forms of magic that have no real mysticism, like (in its original context) the Lesser Key of Solomon. There's some prayer involved, but it's done mechanically for material gain. It's only in the 20th century that anyone started attaching any sort of mysticial theology to such grimoires. Magic and mysticism can overlap just as much as either of those with religion, but that doesn't mean that any of the three are identical.
For example, Shamanism and Tantra may be both magical and mystical, or one but not the other. Zen and Hildegard of Bingen are certainly mystical and religious, not magical. Transcendentalism is a secular form of mysticism. The Magical Treatise of Solomon and the Greek Magical Papyri are magical but (unless you belong to certain self-proclaimed "magical religions") not mystical.
The concept that magic is inherently deceptive might apply to Stage magic, but supernatural magical practitioners (while perhaps lying to themselves and/or customers) usually do so in earnest, often tying it to their religion in parallel to mysticism.Ian.thomson (talk) 03:21, 28 November 2014 (UTC)

Assessment comment[edit]

The comment(s) below were originally left at Talk:Magic and religion/Comments, and are posted here for posterity. Following several discussions in past years, these subpages are now deprecated. The comments may be irrelevant or outdated; if so, please feel free to remove this section.

Needs inline citations, and could use more and different sources. Badbilltucker 15:40, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

Last edited at 15:40, 4 January 2007 (UTC). Substituted at 22:49, 29 April 2016 (UTC)

New work proposals[edit]

Well this article needs a lot of work doing to it. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the older talk threads above here, so thanks to anyone contributing in the past. I think it needs a much greater focus on the supposed functional differences between magic and religion in broad terms, which I am willing to start building into this and to also include a load more references to current archaeological and anthropological publications discussing these. It also needs a lot more work on semantics discussing what we even mean, at a very fundamental level, when we use the words 'magic' and 'religion' and the vagaries of this discussion. Any and all references/resources that build into these two main topics to supplement my own would be welcome. Zakhx150 (talk) 17:19, 12 May 2016 (UTC)