(sorcery), art of attaining
objectives, acquiring knowledge, or performing works of
wonder through supernatural or nonrational means. Techniques
used in magic typically include chants and spells,
gestures or actions that often have a symbolic relation
to the desired result (for example, acting out a successful
hunt of the past to make a future hunt successful), and
the use of substances believed to have a special relationship
with the powers needed to accomplish the intended purpose.
Types of Magic
distinguish three types of magical practice:
magic, or the use of small portions of a thing to represent
and affect the whole;
magic, in which a symbolic action (for example, sticking
pins into a doll) affects an object with which the symbol
is in "sympathy" or harmony;
contagious magic, the influencing of one thing through
contact with another that is believed to be magically
theoretical foundation for most magical practices is a belief
in correspondences, or hidden relationships among entities
within the universe-especially between human beings and
the external world. According to this view, the application
of the right colors, objects, sounds, or gestures in a given
context can bring about the desired result.
theory of correspondences affirms the power of thought to
confer reality on products of the imagination, particularly
when these thoughts are expressed through significant symbols.
is widely practiced in primal and traditional societies.
In such contexts magic is not simply a prescientific way
of attaining practical ends-it may also involve at least
a partial symbolic recognition of the society's spiritual
world view and of its gods and myths. In this respect magic
often merges with religion, and indeed the line between
the two is frequently blurred. Religion, however, is usually
regarded as the public acknowledgment of spirituality, while
magic tends to be private and oriented toward power and
gain by supernatural means rather than toward worship.
can also be drawn between white and black magic: White magic
is employed for benign ends, and black magic is used to
harm others. Black magic is sometimes referred to as witchcraft
or sorcery, even though many people who practice witchcraft
do not seek to cause harm. Magic in the supernatural sense
is different from stage magic, in which apparent magical
effects are produced for entertainment through such means
as sleight of hand.
is also made between magic and divination, which is the
art of foretelling the future course of events: Magic attempts
to affect the future, not merely to predict it. By this
definition, occult practices such as astrology,
card-reading, and palmistry are not magical (see Occultism),
whereas concocting love potions and casting spells are magical
practices, as is the art of invoking spirits by means of
chants and gestures (see Spiritualism).
Many practitioners of magic also believe that these techniques
must be combined with concentration of thought upon the
Origins and History
traditions of magic have deep and complex roots. Some spells
and practices can be traced back to ancient
Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome, particularly those
spells and practices related to spiritual evocation, gemstones,
and numbers (Pythagoras).
the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century), science,
religion, and magic often were not clearly distinguished
in either Judaism or Christianity. In medieval Europe, ancient
magical traditions became deeply intertwined with the Jewish
mystical system called Cabala and also with surviving pre-Christian
folk magic, which involved a wide assortment of spells,
charms, customs, and beliefs.
the 15th century to the 18th century, during the period
of the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Age of Enlightenment,
the relationship between science and magic underwent a fundamental
readjustment as Western society entered the scientific era.
Renaissance at first seemed to promise a rebirth of magic.
Intellectuals such as Italian philosopher Pico della Mirandola
rediscovered classical philosophy, including its occultist
and magical practices, and protoscientists such as German
physician Paracelsus affirmed these practices, partly in
defiance of medieval religiosity.
the Roman Catholic church and the new Protestantism, however,
turned more sharply than ever against magic and the occult
arts. One result of this turn was the torture and burning
of women accused of witchcraft
- that is, the practice of magic. At the same time, science
was gradually constructing a model for understanding the
world that appeared to undercut the main premises of magic,
particularly the theory of correspondences.
the end of the 18th century, magic had few serious adherents
among the educated classes. Folk magic and "underground"
magic, however, have continued.
the Americas, for example, traditional forms of religion
that resemble magic have mingled with West African practices
to produce living institutions like Vodou
(also spelled Vodun or voodoo) and Santería, both of which
combine a robust religious world view with magical practices.
From the sociological and psychological points of view,
magic often provides a means of self-affirmation and empowerment
for those who feel excluded by the dominant classes of a
society and its educational and scientific institutions.
its apparent incompatibility with current scientific thought,
magic reflects deeply rooted tendencies of the human mind.
The manipulation of symbols is evident not only in religion,
but also in art, poetry, politics, rhetoric, and commerce.
magical processes of mind are also reflected to varying
degrees in common practices such as the use of mascot figures
and the enshrining of photographs and even locks of hair
of loved ones on a dresser or mantle. Whereas most people
expect that such practices influence only their way of thinking
about a particular circumstance, the magician believes that
these practices affect external reality.
By: Robert S. Ellwood, B.A., M.Div., Ph.D. Professor of
Religion, University of Southern California. Author of Alternative
Altars: Unconventional and Eastern Spirituality in America
and other books.
Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001 http://encarta.msn.com
© 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.