Sociology Index


Magic is the performance of routines, usually in a fixed or rigid manner, designed to influence the future, persuade the ‘gods’ or shape fate. Magic is a category into which have been placed various beliefs and practices which are not verifiable. Magic has historically had pejorative connotations, with things labelled magical perceived as being primitive, or foreign. Magic has been an important part of human culture and social customs and traditions from time immemorial.

Magic is a category into which have been placed various beliefs and practices sometimes considered separate from both religion and science. (Hutton 2012). As James Randi notes in his "Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural," "Beginning about the year 100 and reaching its flower in medieval times, alchemy was an art based partly upon experimentation and partly upon magic. Associated with the sociologists Marcel Mauss and David Émile Durkheim, the term magic describes private rites and ceremonies and contrasts it with religion, which it defines as a communal and organised activity.

The concept of magic has been adopted by scholars in the humanities and social sciences, but many contemporary scholars regard the concept to be so problematic that they reject it altogether. The term magic derives from the Old Persian magu. The term magic was adopted into Ancient Greek, where it was used with negative connotations to apply to rites that were regarded as fraudulent, and dangerous. The term magic was associated with demons and thus defined as against Christian religion. Protestants often claimed that Roman Catholicism was magic rather than religion, and as Christian Europeans labelled the non-Christian beliefs they encountered magical.

The ball player who believes that wearing the same sweater or eating the same meal before a game will determine whether the teams wins or not is performing magic. Greek magos is first attested in Heraclitus. The Greek mystery religions were strongly magic oriented. Magic is a system that asserts human ability to control or predict the natural world through mystical, paranormal or supernatural means. Magic also refers to the practices employed by a person asserting this ability.

Academics in various disciplines have employed the term magic but have defined it in different ways and used it in reference to different things. Anthropologists Edward Tylor and James G. Frazer, use the term magic to describe beliefs in hidden sympathies between objects that allow one to influence the other. Defined in this way, magic is portrayed as the opposite to science.

Among Western intellectuals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, magic was seen as a defining feature of "primitive" mentalities and was commonly attributed to marginal groups, locations, and periods. (Styers 2004).

Magic includes illusion, and stage magic, a performing art in which audiences are entertained by tricks or illusions of seemingly impossible feats using natural means. Magic must be distinguished from paranormal magic which are effects claimed to be created through supernatural means.

Historians and anthropologists have distinguished between practitioners who engage in high magic, and those who engage in low magic. (Bailey 2018). High magic is seen as more complex, involving lengthy and detailed ceremonies as well as sophisticated, sometimes expensive, paraphernalia. Low magic is associated with peasants and folklore, and with simpler rituals such as brief, spoken charms.

According to Greenwood "Since the Renaissance, high magic has been concerned with drawing down forces and energies from heaven" and achieving unity with divinity. High magic is usually performed indoors while witchcraft is often performed outdoors.

Messianism, Mysticism, and Magic: A Sociological Analysis of Jewish Religious Movements (Studies in Religion) - by Stephen Sharot (Author). Sharot deals primarily with the Jewish masses. He describes religious currents in which hope focused on either a messiah who would bring redemption or on the means by which the individual could achieve mystical cleaving to God. Also discussed are Sabbatianism, Hasidism, Reform Judiasm, revolutionary socialism, Zionism, and the relationship between religion and magic.