The Anthropology of Magic

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The Anthropology of Magic

The Anthropology of Magic explains the concept of magic, how magic controls the life of people, how it became an important aspect of some cultures. Usually, by magical actions, we mean a person’s abilities that cause strange events to happen suddenly.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary– “Magic is defined as a power that allows people (such as witches and wizards) to do impossible things by saying special words or performing special actions”.

According to the Cambridge dictionary– “Magic is the use of special power to make things happen that would usually be impossible”.

Source- Semantic Scholar

Frazer called Magic as Pseudo-science. He considers magic as the illegal sister of science. According to him, magic is the collection of those beliefs and behaviour of man which can not be criticized or re-examined.

According to S.C. Dube, magic is a kind of special power through which supernatural powers are controlled for the good or bad work as desired.

Malinowski regarded magic as directly and essentially concerned with the psychological needs of the individual.

Elements of magic

According to S.C. Dube, there are 3 types-

  1. Chanting some words in the form of a mantra.
  2. Some specific actions with chanting of mantra.
  3. The specific position of the person performing the spell.

According to Malinowski, there are 4 elements of magic which are as follows-

  1. Spell
  2. Physical substance
  3. Rules and regulations
  4. Expression of emotions

Types of Magic

Frazer talked about two types of laws-

Law of similarity– like produces like.

Law of contact– That is, the thing which comes in contact with another thing, it always keeps in contact with each other and reacts accordingly.

Based on these two laws, Frazer gave two types of magic-

Imitative magic

Based on Law of similarity. When one type of action is performed, the result is also of the same type, i.e. the same cause produces the same action.

For example- Beliefs among the tribes.

The tribe of Chota Nagpur drop the stone from the mountain, when it falls, it rains due to the rumble of its sound.

There is a practice of human sacrifice among the Khond tribe and it rains due to the fall of the tears.

Contagious magic

Based on Law of contact. It is believed that if something comes in contact with someone, then its contact is always with that person and that thing always affects him.

For example

Among the Kamar tribe, If there is an affair between a girl and a boy, then the boy cuts the girl’s hair or nails so that she is always under his hypnosis.

Pic Source- University of Southern Maine

According to Malinowski– two types of magic :

  • White Magic– for benefit
  • Black Magic– for disadvantage

According to S.C. Dube- three types of magic:

  • Authorative magic– related to benefits
  • Protective magic– protects from black magic
  • Disastrous magic– to harm

Similarities between Magic and Religion

1. Both believe in supernatural powers.

2. The working style of both is traditional.

3. If the goal is not achieved in both the activities, then it is assumed that there is some deficiency in the way of following them.

4. Both are concerned with the emotional expression of man.

5. The person doing both has to follow the taboo.

Differences between magic and religion

  1. Magic is an individual act whereas religion is a social act.
  2. Under religion we have to bow down to the supernatural power, while under magic we control the powers.
  3. The basic purpose of religion is benevolent whereas magic has both benevolent and un-welfare.
  4. According to Frazer, magic originated before religion.
  5. People are generally afraid of the person who performs magic while people have respect and reverence for the person who performs religious rituals.

Similarities between Magic and science

  1. There is a causal relationship between the two, that is, if any work has been done, there must be a reason behind it.
  2. In both it is believed that every event is due to some natural laws and under those laws there are systems and regularities.
  3. In both it is assumed that there is a reaction of action.
  4. Both are related to human needs.
  5. There are specific methods of doing work in both.

Differences between Magic and science

  1. Science believes in nature.
  2. Magic believes in supernatural powers.
  3. There is a possibility of examination and re-examination in science but not in magic.
  4. The way magic works is traditional while science is always changing.

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