Magic is one of the most heavily theorized concepts in the study of religion. Professor Marco Pasi said there are almost as many definitions of
'magic' as there have been scholars writing about it. But most of those definitions are variations of a few basic ideas. My goal is to summarize those
basic ideas, in the hopes that it will lead to an interesting discussion for those of us interested in this subject.
1) Intellectualist theory
The intellectualist theory of magic is linked to anthropologists Edward Burnett Tylor and James G. Frazer. Tylor thought magic is "the error of
mistaking ideal analogy for real analogy". That is to say, "primitive man" assumes that things associated in his mind must be connected by magical
links, such as an "invisible ether", in actual fact.
James G. Frazer simplified Tylor's theory: humanity had gone from magic, to religion, and finally to science. For Frazer, magic is based upon the
flawed assumption that "things act on each other at a distance through a secret sympathy" or "an invisible ether."
Intellectualist theory places science, not religion, in the role of the opposite of magic. Magic is "the Other", which forms the primitive background
against which modern science paints its identity in bright rational colors. Magic was regarded as rooted in mere imaginary analogies, correspondences,
and invisible forces, in contrast to the causal mechanisms of science.
2) Functionalist theory
The functionalist theory of magic is linked to sociologists Marcel Mauss and Emile Durkheim. It focuses on ritual action. Mauss said that magic is
"any rite that is not part of an organized cult: a rite that is private, secret, mysterious, and ultimately tending towards one that is forbidden."
Durkheim defined religious beliefs as shared by, and constitutive of, a social group (a Church), whereas magic was inherently non-social. The
functionalist theory places religion, not science, in the role of the opposite of magic. So magic becomes "the Other", which forms the backdrop
against which religion paints its identity, in bright pious colors.
"There is no Church of magic." -Emile Durkheim
3) Participation theory
Participation theory is linked to philosopher Lucien Lévy-Bruhl. He saw it as equally applicable to magic and religion. In contrast to a worldview
based on "instrumental causality", a worldview based on "participation" sees causes and effects as merging to the point of identity or
consubstantiality without any mediating links.
In participation theory it is science, not religion, that is the opposite of magic. Alternatives to instrumental causality are at the heart of the
matter. The basic approaches of Tylor, Mauss, and Lévy-Bruhl have been mixed and reinterpreted many times in many ways, on the basis of a tacit
acceptance of magic, religion, and science as universal concepts.
Historian of religions Jonathan Z. Smith said that this tacit acceptance leads to interpretational frameworks that are riddled with inconsistencies.
He concludes that the term "magic" is tainted and can't be salvaged.
"Practically no one escapes moments of reduced concentration when they suddenly fall into using unsophisticated common sense concepts, though they
sometimes betray their awareness of the lapse by putting the term magic between inverted commas or adding ‘so-called' " -Hendrik Simon Versnel
That concludes my summary of "magic" (see what I did there?) theories.
So, you might be wondering if I believe in magic. Of course! Who doesn't?
edit on 757SaturdayuAmerica/ChicagoFebuSaturdayAmerica/Chicago by BlueMule because: (no reason given)