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 belief in and practice of magic has been present since the earliest human cultures and continues to have an important spiritual, religious, and medicinal role in many cultures today.[5]

The belief that one can influence supernatural powers, by prayer, sacrifice, or invocation dates back to prehistoric religions and it can be found in early records such as the Egyptian pyramid texts and the Indian Vedas.[6]

Magic and religion are categories of beliefs and systems of knowledge used within societies. Some forms of shamanic contact with the spirit world seem to be nearly universal in the early development of human communities. They appear in various tribal peoples from Aboriginal Australia and Māori people of New Zealand to the Amazon, African savannah, and pagan Europe.

Magic is sometimes practiced in isolation and secrecy and often viewed with skepticism and suspicion by the scientific community.[4]:24 In non-scientific societies, a perceived magical attack is sometimes employed to explain personal or societal misfortune.[7]

The term "magical thinking" in anthropology, psychology, and cognitive science refers to causal reasoning often involving associative thinking, such as the perceived ability of the mind to affect the physical world (see the philosophical problem of mental causation) or correlation mistaken for materialist causation.

The concept of magic, considered distinct from religion, was first widely recognized in Judaism, which defined the practices of pagan worship designed to appease and receive benefits from gods other than Yahweh as magic.[2]:6–7 Wouter Hanegraaff argues that magic is in fact "a largely polemical concept that has been used by various religious interest groups either to describe their own religious beliefs and practices or—more frequently—to discredit those of others."[3]

Modern Western magicians generally state magic's primary purpose to be personal spiritual growth.[8]

Common features of magical practice


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.[9] 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."[10]:175–208

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.[11] (By "performative" Austin means that the ritual act itself achieves the stated goal. For example, a wedding ceremony can be understood as a ritual, and only by properly performing the ritual does the marriage occur.)

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.[12] 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

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

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 being 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 Causality is inferred where it might not otherwise have been.

In the mind of a magical practitioner, it might seem to cause the rooster to crow early, late or not at all will result in an ability to control the timing of the sunrise or stop it altogether. Another example of the principle of similarity is the construction and manipulation of representations of some target to be affected (e.g. voodoo dolls), believed to bring about a corresponding effect on the target (e.g. breaking a limb of a doll will bring about an injury in the corresponding limb of someone depicted by the doll).

Principle of contagion

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."[13]

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":[14] brought into contact with stem cuttings of plants like manioc before they are planted these powerful tangible symbols of fertility are believed by the Aguruna to transfer some of their fertility to the plants.

Others argue that ritualistic actions are merely therapeutic, Tambiah citing the example of a native hitting the ground with a stick. While some may interpret this action as symbolic (i.e. the man is trying to make the ground yield crops through force), others would simply see a man unleashing his frustration at poor crop returns.

Ultimately, whether or not an action is symbolic depends upon the context of the situation as well as the ontology of the culture. Many symbolic actions are derived from mythology and unique associations, whereas other ritualistic actions are just simple expressions of emotion and are not intended to enact any type of change.

Magical language

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."[9]: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[10]:175–176 but not all speech is considered magical, only certain words and phrases or words spoken in a specific context are considered to have magical power.[10]: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; whereas in scientific language words are tied to specific meanings and refer to an objective external reality.[15] Magical language is therefore particularly adept at constructing metaphors that establish symbols and link magical rituals to the world.[10]:189

Malinowski argues that "the language of magic is sacred, set and used for an entirely different purpose to that of ordinary life"[9]: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 use of Hebrew in Judaism being cited as an example.[10]:182

Another potential source of the power of words is their secrecy and exclusivity: much-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).[9]:228[10]:178

In this respect, Tambiah argues that magical languages violate the primary function of language: communication.[10]: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."[10]:182


Main article: Magician (paranormal)
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.[16]:25

The possession of magical knowledge alone may be insufficient to grant magical power; often a person must also possess certain magical objects, traits, or life experiences in order to be a magician.

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.[17]

A variety of personal traits may be credited with giving magical power, and frequently they are associated with an unusual birth into the world.[18]:87

In the 16th century Friuli, babies born with the caul were believed to be benandanti or "Good Walkers" who would battle evil witches in night time battles over the bounty of the next year's crops. They did not particularly think of themselves as witches (though the term was later applied to them by the Catholic Church under the influence of the Italian Inquisition).[19]

Post-birth experiences are also believed to convey magical power, and example being the survival of a near-death illness may be taken as evidence of their power as a healer:

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.[20]

However the most commonly 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).[16]:41–44

Given the exclusivity of the criteria needed to become a magician, much magic is performed by specialists,[16]:26 laypeople being limited to some simple magical rituals that relate to everyday living but in situations of particular importance, especially when health or major life events are concerned, a specialist magician will often be consulted.[18]

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.[16]: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.[21]


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.[7]

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.[22]

Known members of the community may be accused as witches, or the witches may be perceived as supernatural, non-human entities.[23] 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,[24] (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.[25])


Anthropological and psychological origins

Definitions of relevant terminology

The foremost perspectives on magic in anthropology are functionalist, symbolist, and intellectualist. These three perspectives are used to describe how magic works in a society. The functionalist perspective, usually associated with Bronisław Malinowski, maintains that all aspects of society are meaningful and interrelated.[26] In the functionalist perspective, magic performs a latent function in the society. The symbolist perspective researches the subtle meaning in rituals and myths that define a society[27] and deals with questions of theodicy—"why do bad things happen to good people?" Finally the intellectualist perspective, associated with Edward Burnett Tylor and Sir James Frazer, regard magic as logical, but based on a flawed understanding of the world. A less patronising perspective is advanced by Shafer, who argues that magic is a rational activity, whose inference and arguments have strong logical coherence, and which differ from science not in their organisation or formal properties but rather in their premises, wherein they assume different agents and causality to that favoured by science.[28]

Magical thinking

Main article: Magical thinking

The term "magical thinking" in anthropology, psychology, and cognitive science refers to causal reasoning often involving associative thinking, such as the perceived ability of the mind to affect the physical world (see the philosophical problem of mental causation) or correlation mistaken for materialist causation. Perceived causal associations between actions or events may derive from symbolic associations such as metaphor, metonym, "As above, so below" from Hermeticism and apparent synchronicity (coincidental magic).

Psychological theories of magic

Psychological theories 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.[29][30]

Intellectualist perspectives

Further information: Myth and ritual and Shamanism

The belief that one can influence supernatural powers, by prayer, sacrifice, or invocation goes back to prehistoric religion and is present in early records such as the Egyptian pyramid texts and the Indian Vedas.[6]

James George Frazer asserted that magical observations are the result of an internal dysfunction: "Men mistook the order of their ideas for the order of nature, and hence imagined that the control which they have, or seem to have, over their thoughts, permitted them to exercise a corresponding control over things."[31]:83

Others, such as N. W. Thomas[32] 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".[31]: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."[31]:84

Theories on the relationship of magic, science, art, and religion

Magic and religion are categories of beliefs and systems of knowledge used within societies. While generally considered distinct categories in western cultures, the interactions, similarities, and differences have been central to the study of magic for many theorists in sociology and anthropology, including Frazer, Mauss, S. J. Tambiah, Malinowski, Michael Nevin and Isabelle Sarginson. From the intellectualist and functionalist perspectives, magic is often considered most analogous to science and technology.

Marcel Mauss

In A General Theory of Magic,[16] Marcel Mauss classifies magic as a social phenomenon, akin to religion and science, but yet a distinct category. In practice, magic bears a strong resemblance to religion. Both use similar types of rites, materials, social roles and relationships to accomplish aims and engender belief. They both operate on similar principles, in particular those of consecration and sanctity of objects and places, interaction with supernatural powers mediated by an expert, employment of symbolism, sacrifice, purification and representation in rites, and the importance of tradition and continuation of knowledge. Magic and religion also share a collective character and totality of belief. The rules and powers of each are determined by the community's ideals and beliefs and so may slowly evolve. Additionally neither supports partial belief. Belief in one aspect of the phenomena necessitates belief in the whole, and each incorporates structural loopholes to accommodate contradictions.

The distinction Mauss draws between religion and magic is both of sentiment and practice. He portrays magic as an element of pre-modern societies and in many respects an antithesis of religion. Magic is secretive and isolated, and rarely performed publicly in order to protect and to preserve occult knowledge. Religion is predictable and prescribed and is usually performed openly in order to impart knowledge to the community. While these two phenomena do share many ritual forms, Mauss concludes that "a magical rite is any rite that does not play a part in organized cults. It is private, secret, mysterious and approaches the limit of prohibited rite."[4]:24 In practice, magic differs from religion in desired outcome. Religion seeks to satisfy moral and metaphysical ends, while magic is a functional art which often seeks to accomplish tangible results. In this respect magic resembles technology and science. Belief in each is diffuse, universal, and removed from the origin of the practice. Yet, the similarity between these social phenomena is limited, as science is based in experimentation and development, whereas magic is an "a priori belief."[16]:92 Mauss concludes that though magical beliefs and rites are most analogous to religion, magic remains a social phenomenon distinct from religion and science with its own characteristic rules, acts and aims.

S. J. Tambiah

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 Tambiah also believes that the perceptions of these three ideas have evolved over time as a result of Western thought. The lines of demarcation between these ideas depend upon the perspective of a variety of anthropologists, but Tambiah has his own opinions regarding magic, science, and religion.

According to Tambiah, religion is based on an organized community, and it is supposed to encompass all aspects of life. In religion, man is obligated to an outside power and he is supposed to feel piety towards that power. Religion is effective and attractive because it is generally exclusive and strongly personal. Also, because religion affects all aspects of life, it is convenient in the sense that morality and notions of acceptable behavior are imposed by God and the supernatural. Science, on the other hand, suggests a clear divide between nature and the supernatural, making its role far less all-encompassing than that of religion.

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 Whereas in religion nature and the supernatural are connected and essentially interchangeable, in science, nature and the supernatural are clearly separate spheres. Also, science is a developed discipline; a logical argument is created and can be challenged. The base of scientific knowledge can be extended, while religion is more concrete and absolute. Magic, the less accepted of the three disciplines in Western society, is an altogether unique idea.

Tambiah states that magic is a strictly ritualistic action that implements forces and objects outside the realm of the gods and the supernatural. These objects and events are said to be intrinsically efficacious so that the supernatural is unnecessary. To some, including the Greeks, magic was considered a "proto-science." Magic has other historical importance as well.

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[33] 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 Prayer was the only way to effectively enact positive change. The Protestant Reformation was a significant moment in the history of magical thought because Protestantism provided the impetus for a systematic understanding of the world. In this systematic framework, there was no room for magic and its practices. Besides the Reformation, the Renaissance was an influential epoch in the history of thought concerning magic and science.

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

The lines of demarcation between science, magic, and religion all have origins dating to times when established thought processes were challenged. The rise of Western thought essentially initiated the differentiation between the three disciplines. Whereas science could be revised and developed through rational thought, magic was seen as less scientific and systematic than science and religion, making it the least respected of the three.

Bronisław Malinowski

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"[34]: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."[34]:86 Both magic and science develop procedures that must be followed to accomplish specific goals. Magic and science are both based on knowledge; magic is knowledge of the self and of emotion while science is knowledge of nature.

According to Malinowski, magic and religion are also similar in that they often serve the same function in a society. The difference is that magic is more about the personal power of the individual and religion is about faith in the power of God. Magic is also something that is passed down over generations to a specific group while religion is more broadly available to the community.

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."[34]:90

Robin Horton

In "African Traditional Thought and Western Science,"[35] Robin Horton compares 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." 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 cause to a few select forces.[35]:132
  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.[35]:135
  3. "Common sense and theory have complementary roles in everyday life."[35]:140 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."[35]:143 There are widely and narrowly encompassing theories, and the individual can usually chose 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.[35]:144
  6. Theory is usually created by analogy between unexplained and familiar phenomena.[35]: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".[35]:147 It is this process of abstraction that contributes to the ability of theories to transcend commonsense explanation. For example, gods have the quality of spirituality by 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.[35]:148

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.[35]:153 He classifies scientifically oriented cultures as "open" because they are aware of other modes of thought while traditional cultures are "closed" because they are unaware of alternatives to the established theories. The varying sources of information in these systems results in differences in form which, Horton asserts, often blinds observers from seeing the similarities between the systems as two applications of theoretical thought.

Arthur C. Clarke

British author Arthur C. Clarke formulated three 'laws' the third of which states 'any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic'. While formulated in the context of fictional 'universes' of science fiction this neatly illustrates the dilemma faced by anyone - from a scientifically advance culture or otherwise - confronted by what is currently, and in the local and contemporary context, inexplicable.

Alan Moore

Alan Moore says that magic is indistinguishable from art whether it be writing, music, sculpture, or any other form. He supports his proposition by stating that magic is referred to in early texts simply as "the art". Also, books of spells were referred to as "grimoires" in the past which is another way of saying "grammar" and to cast a spell means simply to spell. He states that magic is simply the manipulation of symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness.[36][37]


Ancient Egypt

Egyptians believed that with Heka, the activation of the Ka, an aspect of the soul of both deities and humans and a divine personification of magic, they could influence the gods and gain protection, healing, and transformation. Health and wholeness of being were sacred to Heka. There is no word for religion in the ancient Egyptian language, as mundane and religious world views were not distinct. Thus, Heka was not a secular practice but rather a religious observance. Every aspect of life, every word, plant, animal, and ritual was connected to the power and authority of the gods.[38]

In ancient Egypt, magic consisted of four components; the primeval potency that empowered the creator-god was identified with Heka, who was accompanied by magical rituals known as Seshaw held within sacred texts called Rw. In addition Pekhret, medicinal prescriptions, were given to patients to bring relief. This magic was used in temple rituals as well as informal situations by priests. These rituals, along with medical practices, formed an integrated therapy for both physical and spiritual health. Magic was also used for protection against the angry deities, jealous ghosts, foreign demons and sorcerers who were thought to cause illness, accidents, poverty and infertility.[39]


In parts of Mesopotamian religion, magic was believed in and actively practiced. At the city of Uruk, archeologists have excavated houses dating from the 5th and 4th centuries BCE in which cuneiform clay tablets have been unearthed containing magical incantations.[40]

Classical antiquity

Hecate, the ancient Greek goddess of magic.

In ancient Greece magic was involved in practice of religion, medicine, and divination.[41]

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.[42]: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.[43] Non-civic "mystery cults" have been similarly re-evaluated:[42]: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)[44]

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.[42]:95–96 Communal curses carried out in public declined after the Greek classical period, but private curses remained common throughout antiquity.[45] They were distinguished as magical by their individualistic, instrumental and sinister qualities.[42]:96 The former qualities, and more generally, 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.[42]:102–103

The Greek mystery religions had strongly magical components. A large number of magical papyri, in Greek, Coptic, and Demotic, have been recovered and translated.[46] They contain early instances of:

The practice of magic was banned in the late Roman world, and the Codex Theodosianus (438 AD) states:[49]

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

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.[50][51]

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.[52]

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.[53]

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").[53]

A particular phenomenon deriving from healing magic is known as the "royal touch" or the "King's Touch". It is believed that various kings and/or queens of the Middle Ages possessed the ability to heal ailing individuals by making physical contact near or directly on the afflicted area of the person. In a similar light, there also exist many folk scattered throughout the western medieval territories who claim to practice and carry this same gift. This has been commonly observed in many religious texts, The Bible being only one of the many pieces of religious literature which contain a plethora of such concepts. Another topic discussed among historians is the various tools or instruments used among these healers and other individuals who claim to practice the art of healing in a magical sense.

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.[54]

Interpreted by few scholars or historians is the belief that rituals practiced by churchmen of the Middle Ages were believed to hold a psychological efficacy; however, as also believed by the aforementioned historians, is that the said rituals provide essentially and fundamentally similar efficacies. The notions about magic hold a very diverse presence across the medieval land and provide a sense of frequent discussion across, and between, the numerous varying sects of antiquity. Sects who have provided many thoughts and opinions about magic range from a variety of teachings or followings. Notable sects include but are not limited to Christians, Muslims, Theodosians, Pagans, Aristotelians, and Mystics.


Further information: Renaissance magic

Renaissance humanism saw 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.[55]

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 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.[55]


A talisman from the Black Pullet, a late grimoire containing instructions on how a magician might cast rings and craft amulets for various magical applications, culminating in the Hen that Lays Golden Eggs.

Study of the occult arts remained intellectually respectable well into the 17th century, and only gradually divided into the modern categories of natural science, occultism, and superstition. The 17th century saw the gradual rise of the "age of reason", while belief in witchcraft and sorcery, and consequently the irrational surge of Early Modern witch trials, receded, a process only completed at the end of the Baroque period circa 1730. Christian Thomasius still met opposition as he argued in his 1701 Dissertatio de crimine magiae that it was meaningless to make dealing with the devil a criminal offence, since it was impossible to really commit the crime in the first place. In Britain, the Witchcraft Act of 1735 established that people could not be punished for consorting with spirits, while would-be magicians pretending to be able to invoke spirits could still be fined as con artists.

[The] wonderful power of sympathy, which exists throughout the whole system of nature, where everything is excited to beget or love its like, and is drawn after it, as the loadstone draws iron... There is ... such natural accord and discord, that some will prosper more luxuriantly in another's company; while some, again, will droop and die away, being planted near each other. The lily and the rose rejoice by each other's side; whilst ... fruits will neither ripen nor grow in aspects that are inimical to them. In stones likewise, in minerals, ... the same sympathies and antipathies are preserved. Animated nature, in every clime, in every corner of the globe, is also pregnant with similar qualities... Thus we find that one particular bone ... in a hare's foot instantly mitigates the most excruciating tortures of the cramp; yet no other bone nor part of that animal can do the like... From what has been premised, we may readily conclude that there are two distinct species of magic; one whereof, being inherent in the occult properties of nature, is called natural magic; and the other, being obnoxious and contrary to nature, is termed infernal magic, because it is accomplished by infernal agency or compact with the devil...[56]


Under the veil of natural magic, it hath pleased the Almighty to conceal many valuable and excellent gifts, which common people either think miraculous, or next to impossible. And yet in truth, natural magic is nothing more than the workmanship of nature, made manifest by art; for, in tillage, as nature produceth corn and herbs, so art, being nature's handmaid, prepareth and helpeth it forward... And, though these things, while they lie hid in nature, do many of them seem impossible and miraculous, yet, when they are known, and the simplicity revealed, our difficulty of apprehension ceases, and the wonder is at an end; for that only is wonderful to the beholder whereof he can conceive no cause nor reason... Many philosophers of the first eminence, as Plato, Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, &c. travelled through every region of the known world for the accomplishment of this kind of knowledge; and, at their return, they publicly preached and taught it. But above all, we learn from sacred and profane history, that Solomon was the greatest proficient in this art of any either before or since his time; as he himself hath declared in Ecclesiastes and the Book of Wisdom, where he saith,

"God hath given me the true science of things, so as to know how the world was made, and the power of the elements, the beginning, and the end, and the midst of times, the change of seasons, the courses of the year, and the situation of the stars, the nature of human beings, and the quality of beasts, the power of winds, and the imaginations of the mind; the diversities of plants, the virtues of roots, and all things whatsoever, whether secret or known, manifest or invisible."[56]:1118

And hence, it was that the magi, or followers of natural magic, were accounted wise, and the study honourable; because it consists in nothing more than the most profound and perfect part of natural philosophy, which defines the nature, causes, and effects, of things.[56]:1118

How far such inventions as are called charms, amulets, periapts, and the like, have any foundation in natural magic, may be worth our enquiry; because, if cures are to be effected through their medium, and that without any thing derogatory to the attributes of the Deity, or the principles of religion, I see no reason why they should be rejected with that inexorable contempt which levels the works of God with the folly and weakness of men. Not that I would encourage superstition, or become an advocate for a ferrago of absurdities; but, when the simplicity of natural things, and their effects, are rejected merely to encourage professional artifice and emolument, it is prudent for us to distinguish between the extremes of bigoted superstition and total unbelief.[56]:1119

It was the opinion of many eminent physicians, of the first ability and learning, that such kind of charms or periapts as consisted of certain odoriferous herbs, balsamic roots, mineral concretions, and metallic substances, might have, and most probably possessed, by means of their strong medicinal properties, the virtue of curing... though without the least surprise or admiration; because the one appears in a great measure to be the consequence of manual operation, which is perceptible and visible to the senses, whilst the other acts by an innate or occult power, which the eye cannot see, nor the mind so readily comprehend; yet, in both cases, perhaps, the effect is produced by a similar cause; and consequently all such remedies... are worthy of our regard, and ought to excite in us not only a veneration for the simple practice of the ancients in their medical experiments, but a due sense of gratitude to the wise Author of our being, who enables us, by such easy means, to remove the infirmities incident to mankind. Many reputable authors ... contend that not only such physical alligations, appensions, periapts, amulets, charms, &c. which, from their materials appear to imbibe and to diffuse the medical properties above described, ought in certain obstinate and equivocal disorders to be applied, but those likewise which from their external form and composition have no such inherent virtues to recommend them; for harm they can do none, and good they might do, either by accident or through the force of imagination. And it is asserted, with very great truth, that through the medium of hope and fear, sufficiently impressed upon the mind or imagination... Of the truth of this we have the strongest and most infallible evidence in the hiccough, which is instantaneously cured by any sudden effect of fear or surprise; ... Seeing, therefore, that such virtues lie hid in the occult properties of nature, united with the sense or imagination of man... without any compact with spirits, or dealings with the devil; we surely ought to receive them into our practice, and to adopt them as often as occasion seriously requires, although professional emolument and pecuniary advantage might in some instances be narrowed by it.[56]:1120[57]


From 1776 to 1781 AD, Jacob Philadelphia performed feats of magic, sometimes under the guise of scientific exhibitions, throughout Europe and Russia. Baron Carl Reichenbach's experiments with his Odic force appeared to be an attempt to bridge the gap between magic and science. More recent periods of renewed interest in magic occurred around the end of the 19th century, where Symbolism and other offshoots of Romanticism cultivated a renewed interest in exotic spiritualities. European colonialism put Westerners in contact with India and Egypt and re-introduced exotic beliefs. Hindu and Egyptian mythology frequently feature in 19th-century magical texts. The late 19th century spawned a large number of magical organizations, including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Theosophical Society, and specifically magical variants on Freemasonry. The Golden Dawn represented perhaps the peak of this wave of magic, attracting cultural celebrities like William Butler Yeats, Algernon Blackwood, and Arthur Machen.[58]


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.[59]

In cultural contexts

Animism and folk religion

An 1873 Victorian illustration of a "Ju-ju house" on the Gold Coast showing fetishized skulls and bones.

Appearing in various tribal peoples from Aboriginal Australia and Māori New Zealand to the Amazon, African savannah, and pagan Europe, some form of shamanic contact with the spirit world seems to be nearly universal in the early development of human communities.

Although indigenous magical traditions persist to this day, very early on some communities transitioned from nomadic to agricultural civilizations, and with this shift, the development of spiritual life mirrored that of civic life. Just as tribal elders were consolidated and transformed into kings and bureaucrats, so too were shamans and adepts changed into priests and a priestly caste.

Juju charm protecting dugout canoe on riverbank, in Suriname.1954.

This shift is by no means in nomenclature alone. While the shaman's task was to negotiate between the tribe and the spirit world, on behalf of the tribe, as directed by the collective will of the tribe, the priest's role was to transfer instructions from the deities to the city-state, on behalf of the deities, as directed by the will of those deities. This shift represents the first major usurpation of power by distancing magic from those participating in that magic. It is at this stage of development that highly codified and elaborate rituals, setting the stage for formal religions, began to emerge, such as the funeral rites of the Egyptians and the sacrifice rituals of the Babylonians, Persians, Aztecs, and Mayans.

In 2003, Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of Mbuti pygmies, told the UN's Indigenous People's Forum that during the Congo Civil War, his people were hunted down and eaten as though they were game animals. Both sides of the war regarded them as "subhuman" and some say their flesh can confer magical powers.[60][61]

In April, 2008, Kinshasa, the police arrested 14 suspected victims (of penis snatching) and sorcerers accused of using black magic or witchcraft to steal (make disappear) or shrink men's penises to extort cash for cure, amid a wave of panic.[62] Arrests were made in an effort to avoid bloodshed seen in Ghana a decade ago, when 12 alleged penis snatchers were beaten to death by mobs.[63]

Native American medicine

The Shamanism practiced by the indigenous peoples of the Americas was called "medicine" and was practiced by medicine men. In addition to healing, medicine served many other purposes, for example among the Cheyenne, one of Plains Indians that lived in the Great Plains of North America, medicine such as war paint, war shields, war shirts, and war bonnets, such as the famous war bonnet of Roman Nose, served to protect a warrior from wounding during battle.[64][65]

Magic in Hinduism

Traditional welcome performance, Mitral, Kheda district, Gujarat

The Atharva Veda is a veda that deals with mantras that can be used for both good and bad. The word mantrik in India literally means "magician" since the mantrik usually knows mantras, spells, and curses which can be used for or against all forms of magic. Tantra is likewise employed for ritual magic by the tantrik. Many ascetics after long periods of penance and meditation are alleged to attain a state where they may utilize supernatural powers. However, many say that they choose not to use them and instead focus on transcending beyond physical power into the realm of spirituality. Many siddhars are said to have performed miracles that would ordinarily be impossible to perform.

Western magic

Further information: Western esotericism

In general, the 20th century saw a sharp rise in public interest in various forms of magical practice, and the foundation of a number of traditions and organizations, ranging from the distinctly religious to the philosophical.

In England, a further revival of interest in magic was heralded by the repeal of the last Witchcraft Act in 1951. In 1954 Gerald Gardner published a book, Witchcraft Today, in which he claimed to reveal the existence of a witch-cult that dated back to pre-Christian Europe. Although many of Gardner's claims have since come under intensive criticism from sources both within and without the Neopagan community, his works remain the most important founding stone of Wicca.

Gardner's religion, and many others, took off in the atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s, when the counterculture of the hippies also spawned another period of renewed interest in magic, divination, and other occult practices.[66] The various branches of Neopaganism and other Earth religions that have emerged since Gardner's publication tend to follow a pattern in combining the practice of magic and religion, although this combination is not exclusive to them. Following the trend of magic associated with counterculture, some feminists launched an independent revival of goddess worship. This brought them into contact with the Gardnerian tradition of magical religion (or religious magic), and deeply influenced that tradition in return.[58]

The pentagram, an ancient geometrical symbol known from many cultures is often associated with magic. In Europe, the Pythagoreans first used the pentagram as a symbol of their movement.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley's Thelema and their subsequent offshoots, influenced by Éliphas Lévi, are most commonly associated with the resurgence of magical tradition in the English-speaking world of the 20th century. Other, similar resurgences took place at roughly the same time, centered in France and Germany. The western traditions acknowledging the natural elements, the seasons, and the practitioner's relationship with the Earth, Gaia, or a primary Goddess have derived at least in part from these magical groups, as found in Neopagan religions and various forms of contemporary paganism.

Allegedly for gematric reasons Aleister Crowley preferred the spelling magick, defining it as "the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will." By this, he included "mundane" acts of change as well as ritual magic. In Magick in Theory and Practice, Chapter XIV, Crowley says:

What is a Magical Operation? It may be defined as any event in nature which is brought to pass by Will. We must not exclude potato-growing or banking from our definition. Let us take a very simple example of a Magical Act: that of a man blowing his nose.

Western magical traditions draw heavily from Hermeticism which influenced the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, as well as Wicca and some other Neopagan religions and contemporary forms of paganism.

Wicca is one of the more publicly known traditions within Neopaganism, a magical religion inspired by medieval witchcraft, with influences including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Crowley. Ruickbie (2004:193-209) shows that Wiccans and witches define magic in many different ways and use it for a number of different purposes. Despite that diversity of opinion, he concludes that the result upon the practitioner is generally perceived as a positive one.

Israel Regardie argued that some magical practices rely upon widely accepted psychological principles and are intended to promote internal personal changes within the practitioner themselves.[67] Visualization techniques, for instance, widely used by magicians, are also used in somewhat different contexts in fields such as clinical psychology and sports training.[68]

Hypotheses of adherents

Further information: Occult science and Esoteric cosmology

Adherents to magic believe that it works by one or more of the following basic principles:

Aleister Crowley wrote that "the exaltation of the mind by means of magical practices leads (as one may say, in spite of itself) to the same results as occur in straightforward Yoga." Crowley's magick thus becomes a form of mental, mystical, or spiritual discipline, designed to train the mind to achieve greater concentration. Crowley also made claims for the paranormal effects of magick, suggesting a connection with the first principle in this list. However, he defined any attempt to use this power for a purpose other than aiding mental or mystical attainment as "black magick".

Many more hypotheses exist. Practitioners will often mix these concepts, and sometimes even invent some themselves. In the contemporary current of chaos magic in particular, it is not unusual to believe that any concept of magic works.

Key principles of utilizing magic are often said to be concentration and visualization. Many of those who purportedly cast spells attain a mental state called the "trance state" to enable the spell. The trance state is often described as an emptying of the mind, akin to that of meditation.

In Judaism

Further information: Kabbalah and Hermetic Qabalah
Rods turned into serpents.

In Judaism the Torah prohibits Jews from being superstitious or engaging in astrology (Lev. 19, 26); from muttering incantations (Deut. 18, 11); from consulting an ov (mediums), yidoni (seers), or attempting to contact the dead (Deut. 18, 11); from going into a trance to foresee events, and from performing acts of magic (Deut. 18, 10). See 613 Mitzvot. The general theme of these commandments is a prohibition against polytheism since the practice of sorcery connotes the alleged invocation of spirits or other unseen forces that are not God. While pagan magic tries to circumvent the power of godheads through manipulation of the meta-divine, the God in Judaism is all-powerful and transcendent, he cannot be manipulated in the pagan sense by magic. A different type of magic can be achieved using knowledge of the kabbalah. Because the kabbalah provides knowledge of the spiritual and conceptual underpinnings of physical existence, one who possesses kabbalistic knowledge is able to produce physical effects by directly addressing the spiritual basis of the affected physical object. This is called 'practical kabbalah' and is a type of White Magic.

The practice of practical kabbalah was banned by the Vilna Gaon due to the decreasing spiritual sensitivity of later generations.

In Christianity

Magia was viewed with suspicion by Christianity from the time of the Church fathers. However, it was never completely settled whether there may be permissible practices, e.g. involving relics or holy water as opposed to "blasphemous" necromancy (necromantia) involving the invocation of demons (goetia). The distinction became particularly pointed and controversial during the Early Modern witch-hunts, with some authors such as Johannes Hartlieb denouncing all magical practice as blasphemous, while others portrayed natural magic as not sinful.

The position taken by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, one of the foremost Renaissance magicians, is ambiguous. The character of Faustus, likely based on a historical 16th-century magician or charlatan, became the prototypical popular tale of a learned magician who succumbs to a pact with the devil.

The current Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses divination and magic under the heading of the First Commandment.[69]

It is careful to allow for the possibility of divinely inspired prophecy, but it rejects "all forms of divination":

(2116) All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

The section on "practices of magic or sorcery" is less absolute, specifying "attempts to tame occult powers" in order to "have supernatural power over others". Such are denounced as "gravely contrary to the virtue of religion", notably avoiding a statement on whether such attempts can have any actual effect (that is, attempts to employ occult practices are identified as violating the First Commandment because they in themselves betray a lack of faith, and not because they may or may not result in the desired effect).

The Catechism expresses skepticism towards widespread practices of folk Catholicism without outlawing them explicitly:

(2117) [...] Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity.

Some argue that the recent popularity of the prosperity gospel constitutes a return to magical thinking within Christianity. Note also that Gnostic Christianity has a strong mystical current, but shies away from practical magic and focuses more on theurgy.

In Islam

The second chapter of the Qur’an introduces an explanation for the introduction of magic into "Abrahamic religions" in the Jewish era, hinting to the fork in the road, then the consequences that followed:

And when they got a messenger that is supporting to what they have, some of them abandoned the book they had as if they did not know; And they followed what the evilly-devolved/ablazed recite on the status of Solomon; but Solomon was granted this status for his worship, not like the evilly-devolved practices of ungratefulness as they teach people devilry and what was sourced to the two angels in the summit of Babel, Harut, and Marut; and as they were teaching, they wouldn't except after explaining that they are a tryout, so don't be ungrateful; thus, they are taught by them the process of how to separate the individual from his associative-half; further, they can never hurt anyone with it but according to Allaah's determent; and they learn what hurts but does not benefit them, and they know that anyone who buys this has no remaining potency; and woe! to how they sold themselves; but if they knew. (Meanings see:Q 2:102)

Although it presents a generally forewarning attitude towards magic and its evolution, Muhammad was accused by his detractors of being a magician, because of his effect on those who heard him.[70] The Qur'an distinguishes between apparent sorcery and devilry. Literally sorcery is the knowledge of angels: it is what is known as 'mother nature', and the knowledge sourced to Harut and Marut. The second form, usually known as 'witchcraft', is the magic that wide spreads amongst devils and devious characters. "Al-shayt-taan", coined, can be explained through two explanatory methods; the first exampled by Satan and how he became "Satan" upon his encounter with Adam, and all of those who follow his devolving path. The second approach, is the literal approach, epistemically referring to the two words that make up the basic word "shay-taan" which are: 'shayt' the energy provoking burn, and "taan" which is like the suffix of the word "sul-taan", implying compelling power. Many of the practices that have been reported as "shay-taan-nic", are mere protocols the evilly-devolved enforce amongst their circles whilst claiming their Solomon's protocols. Further, they would do this by removing keywords from scripture to redefine meanings.

The Arabic word translated in this passage as "magic" is word "sihr". The meaning of "sihr" suggests that "it is the turning . . . of a thing from its true nature . . . or form . . . to something else which is unreal or a mere appearance "[71] Etymologically magic or '"sihr"' roots and connotes anything that is meta-physically supported. Magic, as a common terminology, however, is used to describe appeal, and also to describe delusion; one can mean an ethereal form of attraction or beauty, or what is experienced through lies or provoked meta-causalities or contagions.

As Muslim evolved devolving into many different sects, their acknowledgment and definition of magic varied; however I would like to believe that Satanic alliances will never present themselves as interpretations finding a platform in Muslim belief and societies. Some went on to explain that it was like the actor maintaining obedience depending upon the benevolence or malevolence of his practice. Malevolent magicians operated by enslaving the spirits through offerings and deeds displeasing to Allah. Apropos benevolent magicians, in contrast, obeyed and appeased Allah so that Allah exercised His will upon the spirits.[72] Al-Buni claims the process by which this practice occurs:

First: the practitioner must be of utterly clean soul and garb. Second, when the proper angel is contacted, this angel will first get permission from God to go to the aid of the person who summoned him. Third: the practitioner "must not apply . . .[his power] except to that purpose [i.e. to achieve goals] which would please God."[73]

However, not all Islamic groups accept this explanation of benevolent magic, considering it shamanic. On the other hand, some would go to extent of defining any blessing as "sorcery", and any abnormal "contagion" as witchcraft. Some Salafis view invoking many of these practices as shirk, denying that this is fully worshipping Allah, namely by turning to other meta-physical powers with reverence. Consequently, the Salafis renounce appellations to intermediaries such as saints, angels, and djinn, and renounce magic, fortune-telling, and divination.[74] This particular brand of magic has also been condemned as forbidden by a fatwa issued by Al-Azhar University.[75] Further, Egyptian folklorist Hasan El-Shamy, warns that scholars have often been uncritical in their application of the term sihr to both malevolent and benevolent forms of magic. He argues that in Egypt, sihr only applies to sorcery. However, a person who practices benevolent magic "is not called saahir or sahhaar (sorcerer, witch), but is normally referred to as shaikh (or shaikha for a female), a title which is normally used to refer to community notable or elder, or religious priest, maybe equal to the English title: 'Reverend'"[76] It is fair to say that scientifically observing a person would tell you if he is benevolently blessed or unusually aided/deluded/unhitched with other forms of magic. Islam in practice seizes to categorize except what is apparently observed; maintaining a disposition that religiosity is a matter of heart, as rituals and practices are properly observed, civility is upon government.

Magical traditions

Examples of magical traditions include:

See also


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