Magic Essay Research Paper MagicBy Cheyenne BodiStudent

Magic Essay, Research Paper


By: Cheyenne Bodi

Student ID : 1451

English Composition II

Research Paper

Magic is the art of influencing the course of events or gaining knowledge by supernatural means. Magic is linked to alchemy, occultism, spiritualism, superstition, and witchcraft. The term is derived from the ancient Persian magi, whose priestly occupations included dealing with the occult. The ancient Greeks and Romans also practiced magic. According to anthropologists, magical beliefs and practices exist in most less-sophisticated cultures. Moreover, magical beliefs and practices, such as fortune-telling, communication with the dead, astrology, and belief in lucky numbers and charms, survive even in the most advanced cultures.

Magic in simple societies utilizes nearly all knowledge, including scientific and medical knowledge and practices. The modern sciences trace their origins from practices and beliefs that were originally magical. Thus, medieval alchemy led to the development of modern chemistry and physics, and astrology led to modern astronomy.

Magic is divided into two main categories: white (or good) magic and black (or evil) magic. White magic is used to heal and to counteract the effects of black magic; the latter is invoked to kill or to injure, or for selfish gain. During the Middle Ages black magic consisted of witchcraft, sorcery, and the invocation of demons; white magic consisted of the tolerated forms, such as astrology, hypnosis, and herbalism.

Magic is the art of influencing the course of events or gaining knowledge by supernatural means. Magic is linked to alchemy, occultism, spiritualism, superstition, and witchcraft. The term is derived from the ancient Persian magi, whose priestly occupations included dealing with the occult. The ancient Greeks and Romans also practiced magic. According to anthropologists, magical beliefs and practices exist in most less-sophisticated cultures. Moreover, magical beliefs and practices, such as fortune-telling, communication with the dead, astrology, and belief in lucky numbers and charms, survive even in the most advanced cultures. In the occult, magic comprises a wide range of phenomena, from the elaborate ritual beliefs and practices that are at the core of many religious systems, to acts of conjuring and sleight of hand for entertainment. Used in the former sense magic is a social and cultural phenomenon found in all places and at all periods, with varying degrees of importance.

Magic in one form or other appears to be a part of all known religious systems, at all levels of historical development, although the degree of importance given to it varies considerably. The term has been used loosely by many writers, especially when discussing European magic. Also the ethnographic accounts of small-scale preliterate societies vary in the degree to which they contain detailed descriptions even when magic is important in a particular culture. Thus the analyses of magic in its total cultural setting are remarkably few.

Knowledge of magic in prehistory is limited by lack of reliable data. Many cave paintings and engravings, from all parts of the world, have been claimed to represent figures practicing hunting magic and sorcery, but this is only conjecture. More certain information about magical phenomena is available for the ancient Middle Eastern and Greco-Roman cultures, Christian Europe, and contemporary preliterate societies.

There are many recorded texts of what appear to be magic spells and formulas from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Most accounts of these cultures class almost all records of ritual as forms of magic and as examples of magical or mythopoeic ways of thought. This is usually because the writers themselves assumed that these cultures were examples of “prelogical” thought (as compared with the thought of civilized man), and so took any religious record as evidence of this. The pharaohs of Egypt, for example, were what are usually called “divine kings,” and as such were believed to have the power to control nature and fertility. Many writers refer to their powers as magical, but the evidence is rather that they were expressions of royal omnipotence and contingent on their divine status. Examples of true magical spells and formulas are recorded from both Mesopotamia and Egypt. Spells addressed to gods, to fire, to salt, and to grain are recorded from Mesopotamia and Egypt, as are spells uttered by sorcerers and including necromancy or invocation of the spirits of the dead, who were referred to as a last resort against evil magic. Excellent examples of spells are recorded from the earliest times,. They include both magical recipes involving animals and animal substances, and also instructions for the ritual preparations and purification necessary to ensure the efficacy of the spells. In ancient Roman culture much importance was given to sorcery and counter-sorcery. These seem to have been associated with the development of new urban classes whose members had to rely on their own efforts in both material and magical terms to defeat their rivals and attain success. Spells are recorded to ensure victory in love as well as in business, games, and oratory. Along with these are counter-spells to defeat rival sorcerers.

For the European Middle Ages and later periods there is a vast corpus of written records. As is known from recent anthropological and historical work on witchcraft, magic, and religious syncretism, magic is specially prevalent during periods of rapid social change and mobility, when new personal relations and conflicts assume greater importance than the traditional kin and family relations more typical of times of social stability. Europe appears to have been no exception, particularly when the church, struggling to assert or maintain hegemony, leveled accusations of magic against its opponents. There are three main aspects to the history of European magic, much of which is ill-described and almost always without adequate accounts of the full cultural setting. One is that of magic and sorcery in everyday relationships at the community level from the end of the classical world until recently, when beliefs in magic have in general become weakened. In most cases these beliefs were part of the culture of lowly rural people and records are scant. An exception was sorcery used by wealthier and urban people, especially in Italy and Spain from the 14th century onward, a concomitant of increased social mobility and growth of class hierarchies. A second aspect is the better known but frequently misunderstood belief in magic defined by the church as the heretical practice of making pacts with the devil and evil spirits. St. Augustine and other early Christian writers had considered magic to be a relic of paganism and removable by conversion and education. After a papal bull in 1320, magic, regarded as synonymous with witchcraft, came to be defined as heresy, and the Inquisition’s records began to mention the Witches’ Sabbath (midnight assembly in fealty to the devil) and the Black Mass (a travesty of the Christian mass) as forms of magic and witchcraft. They were defined as magic because of the supposed use of material objects, philtres, spells, and poisons. The spells included the perverted use of prayers and the use of sacred writings and objects for diabolical ends. This aspect of European magic has persisted into recent times in the activities of self-styled satanists.

Whereas these forms of magic were regarded as evil and tantamount to heresy, the third aspect has usually been considered as good, or “white,” in intent. This is the use of magic as part of the Hermetic tradition. Followers of this tradition, who often practiced alchemy rather than magic, were sometimes considered to be evil magicians, acquiring their knowledge by a pact with the devil (as in the Faust legends), but most of them were tolerated in society because their practices, however strange, were perceived as being within the main Judaic and Christian Hermetic tradition. When their magical activities proved, or appeared, to be antisocial, the results were more often put down to simple trickery–as in the case of the 18th-century charlatan Alessandro, conte di Cagliostro (Giuseppe Balsamo)–than to supernatural agency.

Most knowledge of magic in its social setting is derived from anthropological accounts of people of the non-Western world who today believe in magic. The importance of firsthand anthropological accounts, even though many anthropologists tend to make use of the ethnocentric distinction between religion and magic, is that they show how the people themselves actually regard magic and what they actually do with it and against it, rather than relying on the records of inquisitors and missionaries whose aim it was to stamp out magic. Detailed descriptions of magic come mostly from accounts of societies in Oceania and Africa; magic is also frequently reported from many Muslim societies where pre-Islamic beliefs still exist, as in Malaysia and Indonesia. A difficulty in this respect is that accounts only rarely distinguish magic from witchcraft and divination, both of which are found in virtually every known Oriental society.

The term magic essentially refers to a ritual performance or activity that is thought to lead to the influencing of human or natural events by an external and impersonal mystical force beyond the ordinary human sphere. The performance involves the use of special objects or the recitation of spells (words with an innate power or essence) or both by the magician. The nature of magic is frequently misunderstood because of uncertainty as to its definition, its relationship to other religious behaviour and institutions, and its social and psychological functions. This uncertainty is largely a consequence of 19th-century views on cultural and historical evolution that set magic apart from other religious phenomena as being especially prevalent in archaic and primitive societies and as merely a form of superstition without cultural or theological significance. This view has led to magic’s being considered as different and distinct from other religious rites and beliefs and the overlooking of its essential similarity and connection with them, since both magical and non-magical rites and beliefs are concerned with the effects on human existence of outside mystical forces. The frequently held view that magical acts lack the intrinsically spiritual nature of religious acts, comprising external manipulation rather than supplication or inner grace, and that they are therefore of a simpler and lower kind in theological terms, has compounded the misunderstanding. The definition given above recognizes a main point of distinction between magic and other religious phenomena, in that the latter are concerned with a direct relationship between men and spiritual forces, whereas magic is regarded as rather an impersonal or technical act in which the personal link is not so important or is absent, even though the ultimate force behind both religious and magical acts is believed to be the same. The distinction made by ?mile Durkheim, a seminal French sociologist of religion, that a religious practitioner has a congregation whereas a magician has a clientele, is also a meaningful one. The difficulty in defining magic and distinguishing it from religion is due largely to Western ethnocentric views. In Judeo-Christian belief it has been distinguished from other religious acts, but this distinction is not always found in other religious systems and in fact would appear to be unusual. Many writers have referred to “magico-religious” phenomena, a convenient blanket term. Magic is often confused with witchcraft, especially in the history of European religions. Modern anthropologists, however, make the useful distinction between magic as the manipulation of an external power by mechanical or behavioral means to affect others, and witchcraft as an inherent personal quality motivated to the same ends. In this classification, the word sorcery is used for magic that aims to harm other people; that is, sorcery is “black” magic, whereas magic used for beneficent ends is “white” magic. This distinction does not always hold for specific societies but is a useful one in analysis. Divination, the skill of understanding mystical agents that affect people and events, should be distinguished from magic in that its purpose is not to influence events but rather to understand them. The ultimate mystical power of diviners, however, may be thought to be the same as that behind the forces of magic. In some societies, magicians act as diviners, but the two skills should be distinguished. Magicians are often confused with priests, shamans, and prophets, mainly because many of these practitioners’ activities include acts that are traditionally defined as “magical”; i.e., while essentially they are regarded as intermediaries between men and gods or spirits, in the sense of acting in a direct personal relationship, some of their acts are also impersonal or “magical.” It is often, perhaps usually, impossible clearly to distinguish between priests and magicians; any distinction lies in the kind of actions they perform in particular situations rather than in any true distinction between the kinds of practitioners themselves.

Magical practices may be grouped under four headings


a)Sympathetic Magic




Sympathetic magic, is based on symbolism and wish fulfilment. Desired effects are accomplished by imitation or by making use of associated objects. Thus, it is thought, one may injure enemies by sticking pins into images of them, by mentioning their names in a spell, or by burning hair or nail parings from their bodies. Similarly, the strength, fleetness, or skill of an animal may be acquired by eating its flesh or by using tools made from its skin, horns, or bones. The practice of cannibalism is based on the belief that by eating the flesh of an enemy one will acquire the qualities of that person.

Divination, pronounced dihv uh NAY shun, is the practice of trying to learn about the unknown by magical or supernatural means OR the acquisition of secret knowledge by sortilege (casting lots), augury (interpreting omens or portents), astrology (interpreting the positions and conjunctions of the stars and planets), and tongues (inspired utterances by people in a state of trance, by oracular priests, or by mediums).

Throughout history people have believed in the powers of divination. In ancient Greece and Rome, prophets known as Oracles foretold events.

The third form of magic is thaumaturgy, or wonder-working, which includes alchemy, witchcraft, and sorcery.

i. Alchemy

ii. Witchcraft

iii. Sorcery.

Alchemy’s an ancient art practised especially in the Middle Ages, devoted chiefly to discovering a substance that would transmute the more common metals into gold or silver and to finding a means of indefinitely prolonging human life. Although its purposes and techniques were dubious and often illusory, alchemy was in many ways the predecessor of modern science, especially the science of chemistry.

The birthplace of alchemy was ancient Egypt, simultaneously, a school of alchemy was developing in China. The writings of some of the early Greek philosophers might be considered to contain the first chemical theories-that all things are composed of air, earth, fire, and water-was influential in alchemy.

Witchcraft, term for the principal means by which humans have been thought to work magic, that is, to bring about practical changes by their own will and employing supernatural means. Witchcraft needs to be distinguished from religion, in which humans are totally dependent upon divine beings to grant their wishes, and sorcery, in which supernatural skills are acquired by a process of study, usually involving books and apprenticeship to a master. Witchcraft was regarded partly as an innate power, and partly as something that was handed on, by a wholly or largely unwritten tradition.

Traditionally, people have treated witchcraft in two very different ways. On the one hand they have resorted to specialists in it for their benefit: to be freed from suffering, to injure enemies, or to obtain what they desire. On the other, they have blamed it for their own misfortunes, and set out to identify and punish the witch responsible for using the power against them.

The fourth form of magic is incantation, or the chanting of spells, verses, or formulas that contain the names of supernatural beings or of people who are to be helped or injured. Magic rituals are generally a combination of these forms.


2)Material Objects or “Medicines”

3)The Rite

4)Condition Of The Performer

There are usually considered to be three main elements in magic: the spell, the rite itself, and the ritual condition of the performer. This was first stated by the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in his study of the Trobriand Islanders of Melanesia. With the spell may be included the use of material objects or “medicines.”


b)Material Objects or “Medicines”

c)The Rite

d)Condition Of The Performer

The importance of the spell or incantation is now thought to have been somewhat exaggerated by the influence of Malinowski’s work. Among the Trobriand Islanders this aspect is extremely important: using the right words in the right way is regarded as essential to the efficacy of the rite. Among the Maori of New Zealand this element is thought so important that a mistake in the recitation of a spell would lead to the magician’s own death. Frequently spells have an archaic or esoteric vocabulary that adds to the respect in which the rite is held. But in many societies the spell is of minimal importance, the magician using his own words and regarding the content as more significant.

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