Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
305
MAGIC

a. For E. B. Tylor the distinguish in characteristic of magic is its unreality; it is a confused mass of beliefs and practices, and their unity consists in the absence of the ordinary nexus of natural cause and effect. Under the general head of magic he distinguishes (i) a spiritual and (ii) a non-spiritual element. (i) The former is made up of such rites as involve the intervention of spiritual beings, hosts of the dead, demons or gods; hence, in Tylor's view, this form of magic is merely an inferior branch of religion. (ii) The nonspiritual part, but for which the catego of magic would be unnecessary, depends on imagined powers any correspondences in nature; it is merely imperfect reasoning, the mistaking of an ideal connexion for a real one. When the American Indian medicine man draws the picture of a deer on a piece of bark and expects that shooting at it will cause him to kill a real deer the next day, he mistakes a connexion which exists only in the mind of the sorcerer for a real bond independent of the human mind.

b. In J. G. Frazer's view all magic is based on the law of sympathy —i.e. the assumption that things act on one another at a distance through a secret link, due either to the fact that there is some similarity between them or to the fact that they have at one time been in contact, or that one has formed part of the other. These two branches of “sympathetic magic" Frazer denominates “homoeopathic magic" and “contagious magic.” Homoeopathic or imitative (mimetic) magic may be practised by itself, but contagious magic generally involves the application of the imitative principle. (i) One of the most familiar applications of the former is the belief that an enemy may be destroyed or injured by destroying or injuring an image of him. (ii) Under the head of contagious magic are included such beliefs as that which causes the peasant to anoint the weapon with which he has been injured, which, according to Frazer, is founded on the supposition that the blood on the weapon continues to feel with the blood in the body. (iii) Implicitly Frazer seems to distinguish a third kind of magic; “the rain-charm,” he says, “operates partly or wholly through the dead . . . in Halmahera there is a practice of throwing stones on a grave, in order that the ghost may fall into a passion and avenge the disturbance, as he imagines, by sending heavy rain.” Here there is no assumption of an invariable course of nature set in motion by magical rites; save that it is coercive and not propitiatory, the practice does not differ from ordinary religious rites.

In his theory of the origin of magic Frazer follows the associationist school. But, as R. R. Marett has pointed out in a criticism of the associationist position, it is proved beyond question that even in the individual mind association by similarity, contiguity or contrast, is but the passive condition, the important element being interest and attention. Frazer assumes that magic has everywhere preceded religion: man tried to control nature by using what he conceived to be immutable laws; failing in this he came to believe in the existence of higher powers whom he could propitiate but not coerce; with this transformation religion appeared on the scene; the priest supplanted the magician, at least in part, and the first blows were struck in the perennial warfare of magic and religion. Frazer recognizes, however, that magical and religious rites are at the present day, and have been in historical times, frequently intermingled; it should be noted that for him religion means propitiation and that he does not recognize the existence of anything beyond magic among the aborigines of Australia. His theory is based on a selection of facts, and not on the whole body of beliefs and rites recognized as magical, among which arc many wherein spirits figure. Frazer's position appears to be that such rites are relatively late and may be neglected in framing a definition of magic. It may be perfectly true that the idea of magic has been progressively extended; but belief in transformation is also for Dr Frazer magical; this belief is certainly primitive; yet sympathy will not explain it, as it should if Frazer's theory is Correct.

c. L. Marillier distinguished three classes of magic: (i) the magic of the word or act; (ii) the magic of the human being, independent of rite or formula, &c.; (iii) the magic which demands at once a human being of special powers (or in a special state) and the use of certain forms. (i) Under the first head he included such rites as mimetic dances, rain-making, disease-making, and sympathetic magic generally. Some of these rites are conceived to affect the course of nature directly, as by influencing winds or the sun, others do so through the intermediary of a god or spirit, who controls the course of nature, and is himself coerced by man with magical acts and incantations. (ii) Other rites cannot be performed by all and sundry: ceremonial purity, initiation or other conditions may be needed to make the charm effective. (iii) Individuals are found who are invested with magical power (mana), whose will rules the universe, whose simple words bring rain or sunshine, and whose presence gives fertility to the fields. Sometimes this power is an attribute of the individual, sometimes it is bound up with the office which he fills. In many cases the magical powers of both men and other objects, animate and inanimate, are put down to the fact that a god resides in them.

d. Hubert and Mauss have made the most complete and systematic study of magic which has yet appeared. They hold that, implicitly at any rate, magic is everywhere distinguished from other systems of social facts; in order to be magical an act or belief must be common to the whole of a society; the acts which the whole of a group does not regard as efficacious are not, for this school of thought, magical: consequently the practices of gamesters, &c., do not come under the head of magic. Magic is essentially traditional; a distinguishing characteristic of primitive thought is that the individual mind is markedly unoriginal; and this feature is as prominent, if not more so, in magic as in technology or any other important element in human life. The correspondence between magic and technology can be traced far; for the gestures of the craftsman are as strictly prescribed as the ritual acts of the magician or priest: but in magic the results of the gestures are not of the same order as the results of the craftsman's movements, and herein lies the distinction between magic and technic. The distinction between magic and religion is to be sought not in the sympathetic character of the former, nor in any supposed necessary sequence of cause and effect, nor yet in its maleficent' character. Religion is prescribed, official, an organized cult. Magic is prohibited, secret; at most it is permitted, without being prescribed. Three important laws may be traced in the machinery of magical operations-magical power flows along channels determined by the contiguity, similarity or contrast of the object of the act and the object to be affected; but these laws do not suffice to explain magic: equally insufficient are the demonological theory and the theory of properties inherent in the objects used in magical operations. The underlying idea of magic is dynamical; to this power may be given the name of mana (see below), of which sanctity is a special development. This mana, operates in a milieu different from the ordinary material world; distance is no obstacle to contact; wishes are immediately realized; but law reigns in the milieu in question, necessary relations are conceived as existing. The notion of time as it is found in the world of magic is even more alien from European ideas; the notion of sanctity enters into it, but time in magic and religion is qualitative rather than quantitative. The homogeneity of periods of time not depending on their duration, conventional numbers are employed; successive periods of time apparently equal are not so for the primitive consciousness; and both in magic and religion periods are homogeneous by reason of occupying the same position in the calendar.

e. For A. Lehmann magic is the practice of superstitious, and his explanation of magic is purely psychological. Relying mainly on modern spiritualism for his examples, he traces magic back to illusions, prejudices and false precepts due to strained attention. This is ultimately also the view of Hubert and Mauss, who hold that “at the root of magic are states of consciousness which generate illusions; and that these states are not individual but collective and arise from the amalgamation of the ideas of a given person with those current in the society of which he forms a part.” The reunion of a group supplies a soil in which illusions flourish readily, and it is important to note that in magic and religion attention is above all necessary for the success of a rite, witness the frequent rule imposing silence; but this concentration of attention is precisely calculated to favour illusions; it is indeed the ordinary condition of successful hypnotism; even in civilized countries collective hallucinations without verbal suggestion are not unknown.

f. R. R. Marett regards religion and magic as two forms of a social phenomenon originally one and indivisible; primitive man had an institution which dealt with the supernatural, and in this institution were the germs of both magic and religion, which were gradually differentiated; magic and religion differ in respectability; religion is always the higher, the accepted cult; but between what is definitely religious and what is definitely magical lies a mass of indeterminate elements, such as “white-magic,” which do not attain to the public recognition of religion, nor suffer the condemnation meted out to the indisputably magical. For primitive man the abnormal was the super normal, and the super normal was the supernatural, the object of fear; this is especially evident when we consider the case of taboo; it may be regarded as a public scare for which no particular individual is responsible, which becomes traditional along fairly constant lines, growing as it goes. Mana was attributed to taboo objects, among which were men in any way abnormal, whether as geniuses or idiots; and such men were expected to exercise their powers for the good of society; hence came into existence the professional medicine man; man originally argued from cause to effect and not vice versa. Priest and magician were originally one; but the former, learning humility in the face of might greater than his own, discarded the spell for the prayer and prostrated himself before a higher power.

Definition of Magic.—To arrive at a definition of magic we may either follow the a priori road mapped out by Frazer and decline to recognize the distinction actually drawn by various societies between magical and religious practices; or we may ask what magic and corresponding terms actually connote. Frazer's method ignores the fact that magic, like religion, is an institution, i.e. a product of society, not of any single individual; there is no more reason to suppose that a child reared in isolation would develop any kind of magical practices than that it would invent for itself a religion; but if this is the case,