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Theories of Magic

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posted on Feb, 14 2015 @ 11:06 AM
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)

posted on Feb, 14 2015 @ 11:24 AM
a reply to: BlueMule

magic is only magic if no one understands how its done ,just look at the scientific break through's we have achieved in say the last hundred years , can you imagine what the people would have thought about them say two hundred years ago .

posted on Feb, 14 2015 @ 11:31 AM
What some call magic, I call something we have yet to fully understand. Fire used to be magic to cavemen, when we discovered how it works, it was no longer magic but a explainable natural phenomenon.

Some may think that quantum entanglement is magic, but that's only because we don't understand how it works yet. Give it time, we will figure it out one day.
edit on 2/14/2015 by 3NL1GHT3N3D1 because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 14 2015 @ 12:04 PM
Ok! Two responses so far! My magic thread is off and running. Maybe I made a successful thread for once.

So, 3NL1GHT3N3D1, would you say that magic is to understanding as darkness is to light? The light of science gradually disenchanting the world, dispelling the dark of ignorance, until no dark remains, no shadow.

Do you believe the scope of science is unlimited? Is that why you are confident issuing promissory notes?


edit on 795Saturday000000America/ChicagoFeb000000SaturdayAmerica/Chicago by BlueMule because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 14 2015 @ 01:30 PM
a reply to: BlueMule

OK. I don't believe in magic as commonly referenced. I prefer sci-fi novelist Arthur C. Clarke's interpretation that ignores mysticism and looks to a more physical explanation. I'll paraphrase his view:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

(Of course, you have to turn that around for use in your discussion.)

edit on 14-2-2015 by Aliensun because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 14 2015 @ 01:41 PM
If a women behind a cauldron practicing Alchemy, which is close to chemistry is considered, is a magical witch, then it ain't magic, it just the believe in magic.

Magic too me is nothing but a veil of cloud and smoke, although don't get me wrong, a person knowledgeable in the arts of science can make themselves appear to be a wizard, whether it happened in the past, or it will happen in the future. As for religion, they probably could of wanted to control the secrets of natural phenomena, making it appear like it was magic that belonged to their sects of faith.

(Im going to throw this out here)
Or how the believe that aliens(E.T) with the idea that all their supreme technology could seem magical based in comparison to our modern arts, but really its technology.

Just seriously, f'd up, how the hell technology.

I think the believe of magic may have been feuded by many cults, and wizards. Todays modern church makes their faith like it was a brand of magic, while any other form outside their faith, or without the name Jesus is considered black. Gun powders black magic pal, it will send you to a fiery hell if one stupid to allow a flame near it?

Also the one part of the story of Moses between him and the pharaoh having a magical competition kind of talks to me.
God and Gandalf might be cousins?

edit on 14-2-2015 by Specimen because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 14 2015 @ 01:45 PM

originally posted by: Aliensun
a reply to: BlueMule

OK. I don't believe in magic as commonly referenced. I prefer sci-fi novelist Arthur C. Clarke's interpretation that ignores mysticism and looks to a more physical explanation. I'll paraphrase his view:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

(Of course, you have to turn that around for use in your discussion.)

You used the word mysticism. Mysticism is another tainted term. People assume it's a universal concept, but I have no idea what you mean by it.

As a mystic and a student of comparative mysticism scholarship, I have my own idea of what that term means. But I have found no one else on ATS with an identical idea of what it means. So chances are, you and I have radically different concepts of mysticism. That word is so abused it's almost worthless.

So I can't really comment on your post, because I can't get past that word. But I will say that 2001: A Space Odyssey is best understood as a mystical metaphor. It's blatantly obvious to me. But very very few Clarke fans seem able to grok the mystical subtext.


edit on 872SaturdayuAmerica/ChicagoFebuSaturdayAmerica/Chicago by BlueMule because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 14 2015 @ 02:32 PM
a reply to: BlueMule

I don't think science will ever figure everything out because it only explains what can be seen. There's this pesky little thing called the observer that cannot be seen because it is the one seeing. In that sense, science is limited.

posted on Feb, 14 2015 @ 02:33 PM
a reply to: BlueMule

intellectualist theory is the closest one to the truth. with one small difference: that assumption isn't flawed.

posted on Feb, 14 2015 @ 03:36 PM
I see magic as Intent->Manifestation so yes I do believe some magic tools works. And all magic if understandable and logical from my point of view when we understand/sense how it works on quantum/energy level.

2 example of "magic" tools that works.
1 Meditation and Binaural beats to get to the energized body state where you can feel the tingling and heat in your body.
2 Playing around with Reiki feeling the energy fields that surrounds people while they are doing Reiki.

edit on 14-2-2015 by LittleByLittle because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 14 2015 @ 03:41 PM
a reply to: BlueMule


Just like the word enlightenment. A word used for so many meanings that in the end it just confuses people. Why cannot people create more words so we can describe more precisely what we mean?

posted on Feb, 14 2015 @ 04:55 PM
The cool part of life is the magic and mystery and not some scientist taking that away from everyone while feeding their ego.

Again joe dirt is right in asking why are boobs good?

Cool thread

posted on Feb, 15 2015 @ 06:10 AM
I have recently been watching a Magic show called Troy-Street Magic.
The show is really entertaining and the guy has really good slight of hand techniques.
I can't figure out how he is doing all the magic tricks.

Do I believe in magic... Well yes I do. Go watch Troy-Street Magic and you will see the kind of magic I am talking about.

This guy does the magic just to bring a smile, laugh or warm fuzzy feeling to complete strangers. That is my kind of magic. The reaction he gets, the lasting impression his tricks make on unsuspecting passer-byes... The kid knows what he is doing and the effect he has on these people is very magical.


posted on Feb, 15 2015 @ 08:54 AM
For my own take on it, Aleister Crowley stated it best:

“Magick is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.”

(From Magick in Theory and Practice)

For my money, Crowley was one of the most important philosophers of the 20th Century. Of course, that fact is lost on any who have never actually READ what Crowley wrote.

posted on Feb, 15 2015 @ 07:15 PM
I don't really place any confidence into "theories of magic" put forth by positivist academia. They don't even acknowledge or understand the most basic laws that are crucial to understanding magic.

Their intellectual rationalization of magic is one dimensional, flat and even insulting to a certain degree, they can have their fancy papers and they can keep imagining that they can place magic within a box in their pathological materialist reality tunnel but magic transcends their restrictive worldview and their base understanding.

Magic is the utilisation or practical application of occult(hidden) knowledge to achieve something or to effect a change in reality. Knowledge and application of the invisible(occult) laws governing our reality. Magic is the real life analog to computer hacking, know the system and the laws and use that knowledge.

Consciousness and panpsychism/animism/pantheism/panentheism is at the foundation of all real magical conceptions.

Why should we let what are in all actuality laymen in this subject define these things? They don't even know the first thing.

posted on Feb, 15 2015 @ 07:24 PM
''Magic'' is perhaps an overused term.

I don't buy into most of the pseudo Wiccan / new age faker types, most of those I have met were as out of tune with nature's energies as the average human, some even more.

I do believe in energies though, those that transcend the physical, those that physics might just be starting to realise the existence of.

Having spent a lot of my childhood in the woods and having studied many religions and also the runes and Norse Mythology, I have to say there are energies in nature that those perceptive and sensitive to such energies are able to perceive.

posted on Feb, 15 2015 @ 09:05 PM
Magic has a bad rep... it's true. Any educated citizen in the first worlds will tell you it's simple minded and seeing concurrence as meaningful instead of probabilistic. In other words, childlike.

I long agreed... and then I read a little, spoke to certain folks and finally tried it... and was surprised that it did seem to work. True, it could've been really, really amazing coincidences... or hallucinations... but it also could've been reality conforming to a conscious will and different beings of pure consciousness.

Adding in certain strange findings in physics, and I'm betting true, curious, honest science will encompass 'magik' someday. I don't think the two disciplines will always be incompatible.

As always... I could be wrong...

posted on Feb, 16 2015 @ 11:22 AM
a reply to: Baddogma

Magic already encompasses science. Magic is probably the oldest science, it is a science and an art.

Magic and mysticism deals with the highest realities, the ultimate reality. As Eliphas Levi would say, it is the highest science. Science is merely a methodology, one that coincidentally was developed by European occultists and before that other sages and philosophers of the ancient world. I know Bluemule has spoken of this concept before here on ATS; which narrative is the controlling narrative? Which worldview encompasses and or transcends the other one?

A methodology can not contain infinity, a methodology could only ever hope to explore infinity.

Science was a tool in the hands of the pioneers of science and they were initiates of mystical orders. And it remains a useful tool to this very day, either for personal exploration or for useful technology, but don't think for a second that it can't be used as a tool for control. We may like to think that science and scientists are completely impartial but this is a fiction in this day and age. Money talks, and the rulers of perception have ways of manipulating science and consequentially public opinion, just look at climate change(I'm actually on the fence here but look at the differing opinions of experts and the skewed data). There's an entire industry of corporations manipulating data for selfish reasons. Don't think that goes on or isn't possible in a bigger more overarching sense?
If one wanted to control a population in an ultimate sense then science would be a primary target. Knowledge is power, control the information and you control the people. Certain discoveries would be off limits for Machiavellian reasons and would probably be relegated to the world of compartmentalized black projects.

Magic can serve as a key for ontological liberation and this has historically been understood by rulers because the aristocracy and or priesthood have studied these things all throughout history. They know knowledge leads to emancipation. So in the common conspiracy theorist narrative of an occult power elite controlling things it would make perfect sense to suppress discoveries that would blow the lid on the importance of consciousness in relation to reality and similar discoveries.

Well, that's my view at least, it's a lot to swallow if one has no blatant experience of magic cause it's so divergent from conventional wisdom. But if one has already had an "ontological shock" it might make more sense. It is what it is.

posted on Feb, 16 2015 @ 01:32 PM
Imagine if magic was the true language of nature?


posted on Feb, 17 2015 @ 04:56 PM
a reply to: TheLaughingGod

I tend to agree with most all you wrote... and definition of terms, as always, is a good place to start.

The whole following tangent isn't directed at you, necessarily, btw.

World views are like, and not like, a-holes... more accurately, they're like probabilities... always changing and mutating with every new bit of information. So everyone has more than one.

But naming and defining something (or nothing, for that matter) is one first step towards attempting some understanding ... and magik has some conflicting terms attached to it... starting with it's spelling! Some people are trying to separate sleight of hand magic with true, reality changing, magik... I'd argue that if we're inhabiting a mental construct, then there is no distinction.

The "magik is bunk" view has some valid points... it frequently IS used by bitter, powerless people as a counter to injustice, and, arguably, very few nasty dictators (or mean neighbors) have dropped dead due to black magik (a further attempt at distinction between 'good' and 'bad' magik)... so the term might need further refinement before it can be discussed and vetted.

In my experience, magik seems to be subtle... a nudge to already existing situations to change the odds... but the few times it seemed to warp reality, in a big way, has me wondering.

I guess I'm saying "why is it so difficult to prove?" What are the parameters of Magik... are there any? I've read Crowley, Levi and a host of others, and am still a tad confused... like a kid after a sleight of hand show.

Why does it seem to work sometimes... and not others? What are the rules, if any, and who makes them? If the answer is yourself, why the conflict and failures?

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