magic

type of beliefs and practices involving supernatural acts

Magic is a category into which have been placed various beliefs and practices considered separate from both religion and science. Emerging within Western culture, the term has historically often had pejorative connotations, with things labelled magical perceived as being socially unacceptable, primitive, or foreign. The concept has been adopted by scholars in the humanities and social sciences, who have proposed various different—and often mutually exclusive—definitions of the term. Many contemporary scholars regard the concept to be so problematic that they reject it altogether. The term magic derives from the Old Persian magu, a word that applied to a form of religious functionary about which little is known. During the late sixth and early fifth centuries BCE, this term was adopted into Ancient Greek, where it was used with negative connotations to apply to rites that were regarded as fraudulent, unconventional, and dangerous. This meaning of the term was then adopted by Latin in the first century BCE. Via Latin, the concept was incorporated into Christian theology during the first century CE, where magic was associated with demons and thus defined against (Christian) religion. This concept was pervasive throughout the Middle Ages, when Christian authors categorised a diverse range of practices—such as enchantment, witchcraft, incantations, divination, necromancy, and astrology—under the label magic. In early modern Europe, Protestants often claimed that Roman Catholicism was magic rather than religion, and as Christian Europeans began colonising other parts of the world in the sixteenth century they labelled the non-Christian beliefs they encountered magical. In that same period, Italian humanists reinterpreted the term in a positive sense to create the idea of natural magic. Both negative and positive understandings of the term recurred in Western culture over the following centuries. Since the nineteenth century, academics in various disciplines have employed the term magic but have defined it in different ways and used it in reference to different things. One approach, associated with the anthropologists Edward Tylor and James G. Frazer, uses the term 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. An alternative approach, associated with the sociologists Marcel Mauss and Émile Durkheim, employs the term to describe private rites and ceremonies and contrasts it with religion, which it defines as a communal and organised activity. By the 1990s, many scholars were rejecting the term's utility for scholarship. They argued that it drew arbitrary lines between similar beliefs and practices that were instead considered religious and that, being rooted in Western and Christian history, it was ethnocentric to apply it to other cultures. Throughout Western history, there have been individuals who engaged in practices that their societies called magic and who sometimes referred to themselves as magicians. Within modern occultism, which developed in nineteenth-century Europe, there are many self-described magicians and people who practice ritual activities that they call magic. In this environment, the concept of magic has again changed, usually being defined as a technique for bringing about changes in the physical world through the force of one's will. This definition was pioneered largely by the influential British occultist Aleister Crowley and is used in occultist movements such as Wicca, LaVeyan Satanism, and chaos magic.
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main subject: magic

13

Series

The Teachings of Don Juan

book by Carlos Castaneda

author: Carlos Castañeda

1968

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

novel by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

author: Neal Stephenson, Nicole Galland

2017

The Golden Bough

1890 book by James Frazer on comparative religion

author: James George Frazer

1890

A Hat Full of Sky

novel by Terry Pratchett

author: Terry Pratchett

2004

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