Magic and enchantment

Dodd, Mesmerism, 1794
Dodd, Mesmerism, 1794


Form of activity in which different elements and forces, physical, supernatural and verbal, are manipulated in order to bring about certain results. The symbolic or ritual component of magic sets it apart from merely technical activity. James Frazer (The Golden Bough, 1911) described magic as founded upon a mistaken theory of causation. He and later writers (for example Lévy-Bruhl) understood it as an expression of a form of primitive science. Malinowski interpreted the importance of magic for the Trobriand Islanders as fulfilling an emotional need, the need for certainty and order in natural and social events. Later anthropologists pursued different levels of enquiry, less functional in analysis: what actually happens in magic (its internal structure), what beliefs underlie its practice (questions of rationality and irrationality), and its place in a particular society. The Victorian division between science and magic has been criticized, since it has been pointed out that very few people in modern societies fully understand technological phenomena. Instead most people believe in such things in a manner similar to that which has been described for so-called primitive cultures using magic. This has led some anthropologists to study the nature and basis of knowledge of the world in terms of universal cognitive structures.

Mark Harris, in A. Bullock and S. Trombley, ed., The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought 1999

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