1902 Encyclopedia > Magic


MAGIC 1 has its name from the magi, Greek _____, the hereditary caste of priests among the ancient Persians, thought to be of Median origin (Spiegel, Avesta, vol. ii. p. vi.). Among the magi the interpretation of dreams was practised, as appears from the story of the birth of Cyrus (Herodotus, i. 107); later writers describe them in both a sacerdotal and magical capacity, Lucian (Makrob., 4) calling them a prophetic class and devoted to the gods, while Cicero (De Divinatione, i. 23, 41) writes of them as wise men, augurs, and diviners. In such supernatural crafts the magi seem to have much influenced the Western nations, to judge by their name having passed into a set of classical terms (_____, magia, magice, &c.) applied to sorcery, enchantment, and occult science in general. In the New Testament soothsaying and sorcery are so designated (Acts viii. 9, xiii. 6) ; while the astrologers who divine the birth of the King of the Jews by the appearance of a star in the east are called magi (Matt. ii.).

The word magic is still used, as in the ancient world, to include a confused mass of beliefs and practices, hardly agreeing except in being beyond those ordinary actions of cause and effect which men accustomed to their regularity have come to regard as merely natural. Thus magical rites are difficult even to arrange in systematic order. A large proportion of them belong properly to the general theory of religion, inasmuch as their efficacy is ascribed to the intervention of spiritual beings. Thus the ghosts of the dead are called up by the necromancer to give oracles or discover hidden treasures, or sent to enter men’s bodies and afflict them with diseases or to cure them, or in a score of ways to do the behests of the magician, whose spells or incantations are thought powerful enough to control the will even of such divine beings as can drive the winds and give or withhold the rain. It must be noticed, on the other hand, that many magical arts show no connexion with spirits at all, or, even if ghosts or demons or gods have to do with them, the nature of these beings does not of itself account for the processes employed or the effects believed to result. This non-spiritual element in magic depends on imagined powers and corresondences in nature, of which the adepts avail themselves in order to discover hidden knowledge, and to act on the world around them by means beyond the ordinary capabilities of men. Thus by mere effort of will, by traditional formulas and rites, or by working on symbolic fancies, the sorcerer believes he can bewitch others to sickness or death, the astrologer reads the future in the aspects of the stars, the augur attends to omens from the cries of birds and beasts, the haruspex prophesies by the heart or liver of a slaughtered animal, and other classes of diviners judge of the hidden past and the yet more hidden future by the falling of lots or dice, the twitching of their own fingers or the tingling of their ears, and a host of other facts of nature which, as the educated world has now found out, have no practical connexion with the magical meanings or effects assigned to them. The great characteristic of magic is its unreality. Its methods have often an ideal coherence which may be plainly traced, but practical effect they have none, and so they may be altered or transposed without being made worse or better. One remarkable consequence of this is the fixity with which some magical formulas framed thousands of years ago hold on almost unchanged to this day. To understand this, it must be borne in mind that, if there were any practical use in such rules as those for divining by the cries of animals, the old rules would have been improved by experience into new shapes. But, they being worthless and incapable of improvement, this motive of change is absent, and the old precepts have held their ground, handed on by faithful but stupid tradition, from age to age. When the test of practical efficacy comes in upon the magic art, it is apt either to destroy it utterly or to transform it into something more rational, which passes from supernatural into natural science.

Magic is to be reckoned among the earliest growths of human thought. The evidence for its remote antiquity lies partly in its presence among all races of mankind, the ruder tribes especially showing it in such intelligible shapes that the beginnings of magical crafts may be fairly supposed to have arisen in the oldest and lowest periods of culture. An example may be taken from the wild natives of Australia, whose whole life is pervaded by the belief, and embittered by the terror, of sorcery. They imagine the sorcerers, armed with their mysterious power called boyl-ya, to come moving along in the sky, invisible except to other sorcerers; they enter the bodies of men, and feed stealthily on them, not eating the bones, but consuming the flesh; the native feels the pain as the boyl-ya enters him like a bit of pointed quartz, and in this shape of quartz crystal the evil can be extracted by another sorcerer. The sorcerer has other means of attacking his victim: he can creep near to him when asleep, and bewitch him to death by merely pointing at him a leg bone of a kangaroo; or he, can steal away his kidney fat, where, as the natives believe, a man’s power dwells; or he can call in the aid of a malignant demon to strike the poor wretch with his club behind the neck ; or he can get a lock of hair, and roast it with fat over the fire till its former owner pines away too, and dies. The Australians, like other low tribes in the world whose minds are thus set on imaginary causes of death, hardly believe a man can die unless by being slain or bewitched. When a native dies what we call a natural death, they ascribe it to magic. Then other magic must reveal the hostile sorcerer who has done him to death: either the corpse itself will seem to push its bearers in the direction of the murderer, or the flames of the grave-fire are seen to flicker towards where he is, or some insect will be seen creeping towards his home; and, when the next of kin thus discover the magic enemy, they set off to take vengeance with earthly weapons. The sorcerer has kindlier duties when he sits by a sick man and charms and charms till he recovers, or sucks out the disease from his body in the shape of a stone spear-head or a fish bone, or brings out the ailment along a string, the other end of which he draws between his own lips till it is covered with blood, telling the bystanders (who believe it) that this blood came along the string out of the sick man. Not disease and cure only, but other events of life, come within the scope of native magic. Storm and thunder are the work of the sorcerers; they can bring rain and make the rivers swell, or burn up the land with drought. Shooting stars and comets are to the natives omens of disaster; the great hawk’s cry in the night portends the death of a child, whose soul the bird is carrying off ; but when a man’s finger-joints crack he stretches out his arm, for in that direction some one is doing him a kindness.2

Taken together, such a repertory of the demonology and witchcraft of a special group of savage tribes shows remarkable correspondence in principle with the magic which once flourished in the civilized world, and which still lingers in peasant folklore. The very details often agree so much as to raise the question whether the magic of savages may sometimes have been borrowed from the lower class of colonists. The superstitions of the peasant are in fact what the savage would readily assimilate, as belonging to a state of mind like his own, and there is even evidence of European charms and omens having been sometimes borrowed by native tribes of Australia or America. It was necessary to mention this, if merely to point out that such borrowing has been only slight and superficial. It in no way upsets the general principle that the magic of the lower races was developed among them, fitting as it does with their low level of knowledge. Every book of travels in savage and barbaric countries shows the influence of the native magician, who, often at once sorcerer and established priest, and sometimes even chief of his tribe, by the aid of spirits and other supernatural means interferes in every act of life. Thus in the Pacific islands the Europeans found a whole class of sorcerers living by making diseases their method being the familiar one of burning or otherwise practising on some morsel of hair or remnant of food, so as to send disease into its owner, by a malignant spirit tying knots in his inside till he writhed with agony. Every sick man was a source of profit to the sorcerer who was believed to have brought on the disease by burning his rubbish, and of course had to be bought off by liberal presents. In these Pacific islands a fact most important in the theory of magic everywhere comes into view with particular distinctness—that such magical arts prove effective through the patient’s own imagination; when he knows or fancies that he has been bewitched be will fall ill, and he will actually die unless he can be persuaded that he has been cured. Thus, wherever sorcery is practised with the belief of its victims, some system of exorcism or some protective magical art becomes, not only necessary, but actually effective, a mental disease being met by a mental remedy to match it.1 At the discovery of America, the Spaniards found the native sorcerers throwing themselves into delirious ecstasy by snuffing a narcotic powder, their ravings in this state being held to be conversation with departed souls, through whose help they were able to care the sick by expelling the disease. The class to which these sorcerers belong, extends over South America, and is generally known under the name of payé (or allied terms). The sorcerer is described as being initiated by living in some wild spot till by fasting and self-torture he attains his supernatural craft, becoming able to see spirits, to consecrate bits of bone or stone into powerful amulets, to make good or bad weather, to gain mystic powers over familiar birds and beasts, to take omens from their cries or from the itching of his own skin, which latter symptom an Abipone diviner declared to portend an attack from, a tribe of enemies, in spite of the missionary, who irreverently set it down to fleas. The old arts of the payés, their malicious witchcraft with herbs and hair, the use of narcotics to produce ecstasy, and their mental excitement by drumming, rattling, and dancing are still to be met with in the wild districts of Guiana and Brazil. In North America practitioners of the same kind are generally known as "medicine-men," from the French colonists calling them médecins, as being the native doctors; the term is really appropriate to barbaric magicians in all parts of the world, whose arts of causing and curing disease generally include considerable knowledge of herbs powerful as poisons and remedies, of simple stopping of wounds and bandaging hurt limbs, in fact of medicine in its elementary state, as yet not separated from the magic with which it was at first inextricably mixed up. The medicine-man’s apparatus includes the sorcerer’s usual music, the rattle and the drum, simple and primitive instruments whose constant association with the lower magic bears witness to the beginnings of music and magic having been associated together when civilization was yet in its low stages of development. The American sorcerer carries a "medicine-bag" made with the skin of his guardian animal, which protects him in fight, cures the bites of serpents, and strikes at a distance as a spiritual weapon. He knows magic chants of power over the elements; he can by sucking and blowing extract disease-animals from the sick; he can make pictures and images and pierce them with thorns so as to kill the men or animals they represent; and he can compel love by practising on the heart of the picture of the beloved one.2 In Africa the native sorcerer bears the name of mganga among the west and central negro tribes, nyanya among the Zulus of the south. He is the rain-maker, an office of the utmost importance among tribes who may perish of famine and disease after a long drought. In his craft a principal part is played by what the English in Africa (using the Portuguese word feitico, charm or amulet) call "fetiches," which are claws, fangs, roots, stones, and any other odds and ends fancied to be inhabited by spirits or invested with superhuman power. These fetiches the negroes trust in for good and against evil fortune, with a confidence which no failure can shake furtherthan to cause the unlucky bearer to discard a particular fetich which has failed, and to replace it by a more successful one. The African mganga has intercourse with demons ; and, being called on every day to predict the fortune of a fight or a bargain, or to discover lost or stolen cattle, he professes to gain information from the spirits, or uses his various modes of divination, such as taking omens from the cries of the eagle or the owl, the swimming of berries, or the moving of sticks in his own hands as they twitch spasmodically in nervous excitement. As with magicians everywhere, his trade is profitable but dangerous, for if his arts of killing have been successful beyond bearing, or still worse if public opinion decides that he has wilfully withheld the rain, he may be drowned or burned as miser-ably as one of the many victims he has done to death.3 These instances are selected to give an idea of the sorcerers of the lower races and their modes of working, which are remarkable for their uniformity in the most distant regions, among tribes who can have had no communication or connexion since remote ages. Where, however, such races as the African negroes come in contact with such foreigners as the Arabs, who though more civilized than themselves have not outgrown the magical stage, they borrow their more cultured magical arts, such as divination by lots. In this way the natives of Madagascar appear to have borrowed from the Arabs a system of lucky and unlucky days of birth, which, carried out with stupid ferocity, has cost the lives of thousands of children, born truly in an evil hour, for when the magician declares their birth ill-omened their fate is settled at once by putting them to death.4

Turning now to the cultured nations of antiquity, among whom the art of writing consolidated and developed false as well as true science, we find magic in full vogue, hardly differing in principle from that of the illiterate barbarians, but worked into more elaborate system and ritual. Of ancient Egyptian magic various original documents have been preserved, containing formulas, mostly of religious magic,—that is, acting through the aid of deities invoked. For instance, there are hymns against dangerous animals in the water, and spells for remaining in the country; and the power ascribed to such formulas appears from passages like the following:—"I confide in the efficacy of that excellent written book given to-day into my hand, which repels lions through fascination, disables men . . . . . . which muzzles the mouths of lions, hyaenas, wolves, . . . . .the mouth of all men who have bad faces, so as to paralyse their limbs," &-c. Ancient as Egyptian magic is, it has evidently grown up from still earlier forms, as is shown by that plainest symptom of old traditional lore, the relying on ancient or foreign epithets as words of power over the gods. This practice appears in the ancient papyri, and goes on to later ages, when the god Set is invoked by other mystically powerful names which he must obey, such as "Joerbeth." The medical art in ancient Egypt shows an interesting combination of practical and magical remedies. The practical recipe might contain nitre or cedar chips, or deer horn, or various other ingredients administered in ointment or drunk in beer, but with this the magical formula was also required to deal with the demon-cause of the ailment. Thus an emetic was given with the following formula, "O demon who art lodged in the stomach of M., soil of N., thou whose father is called Head-smiter, whose name is Death, whose name is cursed for ever!" &c. It must be remembered that such formulas, foolish as they seem to modern education, had and still have great efficacy in relieving the mind of the superstitious patient, and giving a fair chance to diet and medicaments. Their appearance in medicine so ancient as that of Egypt is good historical evidence how the old magical treatment was encroached upon by natural remedies, though then and for many ages afterwards the physicians, wise in their generation, thought it best not to discard the supernatural charm. The. Egytians divided out the limbs and organs of the human body, putting each under the special care of a god, a system which, like many other details of their magic, has lasted on into the modern world. From the astrological point of view they made, a calendar of lucky and unlucky days, according to which for instance on the 19th of the month Athor one must not embark on the Nile, while a child born on the 5th of the month Paopi will be killed by a bull; traces of this set of precepts may be discerned still in the modern Egyptian almanac. Another point deserving attention is the appearance in early Egypt of the distinction between good and bad magic. Magical curative arts were practised by learned scribes or priests, and were doubtless in high esteem, but when it came to attracting love by charms or philtres, or paralysing men by secret arts, this was held to be a crime. As long ago as the time of Rameses III. it is recorded that one Hai was accused of making images and paralysing a man’s hand, for which he was condemned to death ; this was doubtless the ordinary bewitching by an image or picture, here already mentioned among the lower races, and to be mentioned again as not forgotten among ourselves.1

Still more prominent among the ancient nations who brought magic into its pseudo-scientific stage were the Babylonians, whose supernatural arts were adopted and continued among the Assyrians. No ravage tribe ever filled their world with more swarming hosts of nature spirits and demons; only these more cultured nations dealt systematically with them by set formulas of propitiation and expulsion. The cuneiform writings preserve numerous documents of this kind, such as "From the burning spirit of the entrails which devours the man, from the spirit of the entrails which works evil, may the king of heaven preserve, may the king of earth preserve!"— "The god. . . . shall stand by his bedside. Those seven evil spirits he shall root out, and shall expel them from his body; and those seven shall never return to the sick man again." The magic power believed to reside in the secret names of the gods was recognized by the Babylonians, one of whose famous myths relates how by the utterance of these mystic names the goddess Ishtar was delivered from Hades. In the rites of the magician priests, this kind of supernatural power resided in sacred texts, whether chanted. or tied on as phylacteries. In divinatory magic the Babylonians had elaborate codes of rules, of which many have been preserved. Thus omens were drawn from prodigies, such as "when a woman bears a child and at the time of birth its teeth are cut, the days of the prince will be long." So with omens from animals : "if a dog goes to the palace and lies down on a throne, that palace will be burned." A remarkable passage, Ezekiel xxi. 21, mentions three modes. of divination practised by the king of Babylon as he stood at the head of the two ways: "he shuffled arrows, he consulted teraphim, he looked in the liver." The arrowdivination or belomancy here mentioned was done with pointless arrows marked and drawn as lots. They are often represented oil Babylonian and Assyrian cylinders, and their use was kept up among the Arabs till the time of Mohammed. The Babylonian rules of haruspication, or examining the entrails of animals, were most minute, to judge from the omens of prosperity or misfortune to be drawn from the twisting and colour of the intestines of an ass. Diodorus Siculus (ii. 29, &c.), in his account of the Chaldaean priests, mentions with evidently good information their hereditary skill in various branches of magic, their use of purifications, sacrifices, and chants to avert evil and, obtain good, their foretelling by omens, dreams, prodigies, &c. But. it is on their astrology that he deservedly lays the greatest stress. The five planets, which they called "interpreters," they held to portend events by their rising and setting and their colour, foretelling the wind or rain or heat, comets also, and eclipses of the sun and moon, and. earthquakes, and atmospheric changes, beneficial or harmful, both to nations and kings and common men. The Babylonian calendars still remain to show how eclipses, were brought into connexion with floods, invasions, good and bad harvests,—such ideas being worked out, not by mere arbitrary fancy, but from such fancied regularities as that the same weather and the same famines and pestilences tended to recur in a cycle of twelve years. To the Babylonian astrological system belong the stars of men’s nativities, the planetary houses, the twelve signs of the Zodiac (probably invented in observatories in Babylon), while the fixed stars are associated with the planets and gods in a system which is seen at a glance to be the astrology which later nations of Asia and Europe have followed since with servile faithfulness.2

Egypt and Babylon, as these brief notices show, were the chief sources whence the world learnt what may be called the higher branches of occult science, and from the historical point of view the magical rites and beliefs of other ancient Eastern nations, such as Asia Minor and India, are of little importance. It was mainly through Greece and Rome that magic was consolidated and developed in Western civilization. In these classic nations there may be traced the rude old magic inherited from barbaric ancestors to which in later times were added ceremonies and calculations imported as Oriental wisdom. Ancient literature shows the Greeks as a people whose religion ran much into the consultation of oracle-gods at many temples, of which the shrine of Apollo at Delphi was the chief. No rite could keep up more perfectly the habit of savaye religion than their necromancy (_____) or consulting ghosts for prophecy; there was a famous oracle of the dead near the river Acheron in Thesprotia, where the departing souls crossed on their way to Hades (Herod., v. 92). The myth of Circe turning the companions of Odysseus into swine shows the barbaric belief in magical transformation of men into beasts, and the classic sorcerer was believed to turn himself into a wolf by spells like the medicine-man of some modern savage tribe. Not less clearly does the story of Medea and her caldron typify the witch-doctress with her pharmacy (_____) powerful both to kill and bring to life. The worship of Hecate, the moon, sender of midnight phan-toms, lent itself especially to the magician’s rites, as may be seen from this formula to evoke her: "O friend and com-panion of night, thou who rejoicest in the baying of dogs and spilt blood, who wanderest in the midst of shades among the tombs, who longest for blood and bringest terror to mortals, Gorgo, Mormo, thousand-faced moon, look favourably on our sacritices!" This magical record, pre-served by an early Christian writer, may be compared with the poetic picture in Theocritus’s idyll of the sorceress (Idyll., ii.), where the passionate witch cries in similar words to Hecate, the moon, to shine clear while she compels by sacrifice her faithless lover, and goes through her magic ritual of love and hate, striving to force her beloved home to her by whirling the brazen rhomb, scattering his bones with the scattered barley, melting him to love by the melting wax, casting into the fierce flames a torn shred of his cloak and laurels to crackle and blaze and be con-sumed that his flesh shall be consumed likewise. This ancient witchcraft ascribed magic power to such filth as pounded lizards and the blood of creatures untimely dead, revolting messes made familiar to moderns by Shakespeare, who introduces real magic recipes in the witches’ caldron in Macbeth. The early Greeks lived in the same fear as southern nations still do of the arts of "fascination" (_____, Lat. fascinatio) worked by envious praise, or ill-wishing, or the evil eye ; and they sought to avert these bad influences by the means still in use, spitting and symbolic gestures, and the use of charms and amulets. As to ancient Rome, much of the magic in the Latin poets, such as Virgil and Horace, is only Greek sorcery in a Latin dress. But severe Roman laws against those who practised such malefic arts as making hail and spoiling the crops show that here also the sorcerer was at his usual work. What is more remarkable is the high official place given to divination in old Rome, where every public act was done under magical sanction. The auspex, or bird-viewer, and the augur, whose similar name seems to refer also to omens from the flight and cries of birds, in fact carried on super-natural divination not by omens from birds only, but by a variety of magical processes forming a complex traditional system, partly adopted from the Etruscans, as to which some curious remarks have come down to us in the treatise On Divination by Cicero, himself an augur, though living in the days when the ancient lore was falling into contempt. The Roman divination was, as its name implies, a religious system of consulting the gods, who sent the signs to guide mankind. Jupiter, the Heaven-father himself, was heard and seen in thunder and lightning; wherefore these heavenly manifestations were of the highest import, observed by the augur in the templum, or division of the sky marked out with his lituus or curved wand; there was no better omen than when Jove lightened on the left. Among birds, the fierce eagle, Jove’s messenger, gave the highest presage of victory, while the owl with its dismal cry was unluckiest. The good or ill signs given by many birds depended on whether they were on the right or left hand, and the sacred chickens gave their omens according as they were eager or not to feed, and dropped crumbs on the ground. All prodigies were recorded as portents in Roman affairs ; and those which Livy mentions year by year, whether they were real or fictitious, in either case had their effect on the minds of men who saw national signs in a heavy hailstorm, a calf born with two heads, or a bullock found when sacrificed to have no heart. It was in quest of such portents that the haruspex made his professional examination of the entrails of the victims, and reported the aspects of the head of the liver or cleft of the lungs, as a sacred guide to warriors and statesmen in the conduct of national affairs. Public divination being on this footing, it is not to be wondered at that, in the time of the empire, foreign soothsayers thronged to Rome to practise their craft among rich and credulous dupes. It appears that the magic of Egypt and Babylon still held a prominent place, for Juvenal refers to both in his sixth satire, where he rails at the superstitious women of his time for putting their trust in Chaldaean astrologers, all the more if under the laws against magicians they had been put in prison or banished, while ladies would not go out for a drive or take a meal without consulting their book of lucky and unlucky hours, which bore the Egyptian name of Petosiris.

In the classic world, however, the growth of knowledge and accurate reasoning began to have their effect in bring-ing magic to the test of facts, and proving its failure. Greek philosophy, with its physical theories of the universe, had shaken the old religion, and with it the old magic. Though the Romans kept it up as a matter of statecraft, the judgment of statesmen and philosophers revolted from it, holding rather with Ennius, who pointed out the absurdity of the hungry fortune-teller promising others wealth and begging a drachma for himself, or with Cato, who wondered that one diviner could meet another and not burst out laughing. These are both quoted by Cicero, with other passages argued quite in the modern spirit, as where he asks on what principle a raven’s croak should be propitious on the right but a crow’s on the left, or how a chicken eating a cake could help dropping crumbs. Historically attacks of this kind have a particular value, as recording many magical details which we do not know from the believers themselves. Of such details Pliny’s Natural History is full, though he hates magic as the most fraudulent of arts ; and among the most instructive accounts of classic astrology must be reckoned the treatise written against it by Sextus Empiricus. Had sceptical philosophy had its way, magic would have perished ages earlier out of the civilized world. But there were other influences already at work, not only to preserve it, but even to give it another great expansion before its final decay.

The Pythagorean philosophy, while on the one hand bringing in the science of Egypt and Babylon, and developing it into Greek mathematics and physics, on the other hand favoured the growth of magic by mystical speculations, such as those on numbers. Not that the Pythagoreans began this delusive science, which had long been at home in Babylon, where the occult powers of the planetary 7 and the zodiacal 12 were recognized, and spiritual arithmetic was carried so far as to indicate good deities by whole numbers and evil demons by fractions. But the Pythagoreans developed it further in their mystic symbolism of the active 1 and the passive 2, the sacred 4 of space proceeding from the 1, the 7 of intelligence, the 8 of love, and the 10 of the universe. Whatever rational thought may at first have been veiled under all this, its literal nonsense suited the magical mind, and its effects may be traced in magical literature ever since. With such speculations was combined an animistic system of spirits pervading the world, ranging from gods and demons down to the souls of beasts and plants. Both in mystic symbolism and in the doctrine of demons the mind of Plato followed the Pythagorean track, and at a later period the tendency towards magical speculation came out strongly among the Neo-Platonists, when enthusiasts, not content with speculating about the daemonic powers of the universe, sought to establish personal relations with them, and use them for their own ends. The treatise on the Egyptian mysteries ascribed to Iamblichus is an interesting record of this phase of thought. Alexandria became the especial home of systems of theurgic magic, in which invocations, sacrifices, diagrams, talismans, were employed with rule and method, as though they were really effective. Much of this delusive craft has perished or become unintelligible, but its once considerable hold on men’s minds may be traced in such relics as the gem-talismans of the Gnostics, still objects of curiosity to archaeologists ; among their formulas is the celebrated Abraxas, the Greek letters of which (_____, _____) stand with astronomical significance for the number 365. The theurgy which came down into mediaval and modern Europe is strongly marked with Jewish magical speculation. After the captivity, the Jews worked out a classification and nomenclature of angels and demons. On the one side are ranged such celestial powers as Gabriel and Raphael, while against them stand such beings as BEELZEBUB (q.v.) and Ashmodai or Asmodaeus (Tobit, chap. iii., &c.), who is clearly the great evil demon Aeshma-daeva of the Persian religion. Many centuries afterwards, in European magic books of the Middle Ages we find the remains of these theurgic systems still handed on. Their elaborate folly may be best realized by looking into such books as Francis Barrett’s Magus, or Horst’s Zauber-Bibliothek, where the actual rites and formulas for raising demons are given. The evocations, with their uncouth jumbles of sacred names, have some historical interest from their strangely mixed traces of ancient religions, preserved by charlatans, whose blunders show how little they understood the words they copied. We can fancy the magician in his black robe embroidered with mystic characters, waving his wand as he invokes at one breath the great demons "Acheront," "Ashtaroth," "Asmodi," names which the modern student recognizes as borrowed from the ancient religions of three different countries—Greece, Phoenicia, Persia. Of all the sources of this branch of magic, the Jewish tradition is the chief. The magician relies on the power of divine Hebrew names, such as the shem hammephorash or the name Jehovah in its true pronunciation, with which Solomon and other wonder-workers of old did marvellous things. He draws powerful spells from the KABBALAH (q.v.) of the later Jews, with its transposed letters and artificial words,—using for instance the name Agla, formed from the initials of the Hebrew sentence—"Thou art a mighty God for ever." But in compelling the spirits be can use Hebrew and Greek in admired confusion, as in the following formula (copied with its mistakes as an illustration of magical scholarship in its lowest stage)—"Hel Heloym Sother Emmanuel Sabaoth Agla Tetragrammaton Agyros Otheos Ischyros Athanatoa Jehova Va Adonai Saday Homousion Messias Eschereheye!" One of the most curious features of the demon-evocation is the use of the pentagram, an essential adjunct of the magic circle, whose effect in barring the passage of Mephistopheles is described in a well-known scene in Goethe’s Faust. This symbol is an interesting proof of tradition from the Pythagoreans. It is a geometrical figure for the construc-tion of the regular pentagon (Euclid, iv. prop. 11), now familiar to school-boys, but which to the school of Pythagoras was so wondrous a novelty that they used it as a sign of fellowship (see Bretschneider, Geometrie vor Euklides, p. 85), and it after-wards became a magical symbol, still to be seen in use in every country from Ireland to China.

The magic of the Moslem world is in part adopted from Jewish angelology and demonology, and in part carries on Babylonian-Greek astrology, as systematized by such writers as Paul of Alexandria and Claudius Ptolemy. Thus the proceedings of the Moslem magician, as met with in the Thousand and One Nights, mostly run parallel with those familiar in Europe, in their fumigations and incanta-tions, talismans (_____), horoscopes, and almanacs or calendars of lucky and unlucky days. In fact a modern Zadkiel in England would find himself on common ground with his brother practitioner in Baghdad or Delhi.1 In other districts of Asia, more peculiar developments of magic have been preserved. To mention a few of the most noteworthy, the Sanskrit literature in India is rich in ancient magical precepts and hymn-charms.2 The ancient Hindu magic is religious, turning on the actions of demons (bhûta) in causing disease by possession, and their exorcism and compulsion, as well as power obtained over higher spirits by sacrifices, austerities, and formulas or charms (mantra). From their connexion with early Aryan customs, these rites sometimes throw light on European practices derived from the same stock. Thus the magical practice of going round "with the sun," well known as deisil in High-land superstition, and kept up in England in the rule of passing the decanter "through the button-hole," appears to be a rite of Aryan sun-worship belonging to remote antiquity, for (under the name of pradaxina) it forms part of the Hindu marriage ceremony handed down from Vedic times.3 Buddhism as well as Brahmanism had its magical side, and its literature of magic formulas (tantra). The "red-cap" lamas of Tibet, with their pretended miracles of breathing fire, swallowing knives, and ripping themselves up, are curious as reminding us of the time when these tricks, now come down among us to jugglers’ feats, were regarded as supernatural. In the low Buddhism of the Mongols, mixed with native barbarism, the shamans or sorcerer--priests, with their rude sacrifices and demon-dances, are among the most remarkable types of their ancient class. In this part of Asia, and farther east, a somewhat remarkable system of divinatory magic has grown out of the reckoning of days, months, and years by a zodiac-calendar, whose signs ape, horse, dog, &c., are combined in series with the elements, male and female, so that a year may be called that of the "female fire-dog." It was inevitable that such a system should lead the magicians to draw omens from its signs. They do so in a most elaborate way, interfering with their presages on every occasion of life, beginning when the child undergoes its ceremonial washing, and has its fate defined by the signs it is born under, as "in the element fire, under the red sign in the year of the tiger, in the month of the sheep and day of the hog, in the fortieth division of the day under the influence of the ninth star," &c. This quaint science seems, however, not altogether native, for the influence of Babylonian and Greek scientific and magical ideas has extended across Asia, even into China. The magic of this latter country is remarkable for its various and elaborate modes of divination. These may be obtained from mediums possessed by spirits, and giving oracles by speech or writing with the "descending pencil," as has lately been done by "spiritualists" in Europe. But higher authority is given to divination by throwing sacred lots, as the two wooden ka pwe, which fall with the flat or rounded side up. The results of such processes of divination, in themselves meagre, may be brought to any required elaborateness by the use of the "eight diagrams" obtained by combinations of the whole line (—) and the broken line, (--). These, primarily interpreted as representing the male and the female principle (yang, yn), perfect and imperfect, heavenly and earthly, are referred by systematic fancy to elements, qualities, tempers, &c., and interpreted in the celebrated Chinese classic book called the Y-king into a collection of oracular responses.1 The feng-shui, or "wind-and-water" magic, is a system the practitioners of which regulate the building of houses and tombs by their local aspects; it has of late come under the notice of Europeans from the unexpected impediments it has placed in their way when desirous of building or constructing railways on Chinese Soil.2

In the lower stages of civilization the distinction between religion and magic hardly appears, the functions of priest and sorcerer being still blended, as was long since pointed out by Meiners (Geschichte der Religionen, book xii.). As established religions were formed among nations of a higher grade, the separation became more distinct between the official rites of the priesthood and those practised by castes of magicians, rivalry often becoming serious between them. Thus in ancient Egypt there appear, on the one hand, the miracles worked by divinities under official sanction of the priesthood, and, on the other hand, the unlicensed proceedings of sorcerers, who indeed doubtless deserved ill of society by practices done by detestable means or for detestable ends, such as bewitching by hurtful demons, or administering love-potions. Here we come into view of the distinction still expressed by the terms "white magic" and "black magic." Laws were made against magic in these ancient times, but it must be remembered that then and for thousands of years later, the opposition to magic had seldom anything to do with the sceptical doubts of its reality which arose among the classic philosophers. Magic was none the less believed in for being hated and proscribed; and when a soothsayer was looked upon as a false prophet the inference was, not that magic was unreal, but that this particular magician was pretending to supernatural power he did not possess. The Levitical law prohibits sorcery under penalty of death (Levit. xx. 27). Among the early Christians sorcery was recognized as illegal miracle ; and magic acts, such as turning men into beasts, calling up familiar demons, raising storms, &c., are mentioned, not in a sceptical spirit, but with reprobation. In the changed relations of the state to the church under Constantine, the laws against magic served the new purpose of proscribing the rites of the Greek and Roman religion, whose oracles, sacrifices, and auguries, once carried on under the highest public sanction, were put under the same ban with the low arts of the necromancer and the witch.3 As Christianity extended its sway over Europe, the same antagonism continued, the church striving with considerable success to put down at once the old local religions, and the even older practices ot witchcraft ; condemning Thor ancl Woden as demons, they punished their rites in common with those of the sorcerers who bewitched their neighbours, and turned themselves into wolves or cats. Thus gradually arose the legal persecution of witches, which went on through the Middle Ages under ecclesiastical sanction both Catholic and Protestant. The literature of the Middle Ages does not contribute many new elements to the study of magic, which was carried on under the old traditional systems. But it shows on the one hand how unbroken the faith of even the educated classes remained in the reality of magic, and on the other hand that its more respectable branches, such as, astrology and alchemy, were largely followed, and indeed included in their scope much of the real science of the period (see the works of Thomas Aquinas, Gerbert, Roger Bacon, Cornelius Agrippa, &c.). The final fall of magic began with the revival of science in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the question whether the supposed effects of magic, really take place or not was raised, and decided against it. In our day the occult sciences are rapidly dying out in the educated classes of the civilized world, though astrology still has its votaries, and the communications in "spirit circles" by possessed mediums and spirit-writing are what would in old times have, been classed as necromancy. The magic which holds its place most firmly in Europe has come down by tradition in popular folk-lore, which is full of precepts for bewitching and averting witchcraft, and divining by omens. Among the practices which occur to everyone’s mind are foretelling changes of the weather by the moon’s quarters, taking omens from seeing magpies and hearing a dog howl at night, the fear of spilling salt, observation of the shroud in the candle and the stranger in the tea-cup, the girls’ listening to the cuckoo to tell how soon they will be married, pulling off the row of leaves to settle what the lover’s calling will be, and perhaps even compelling him to come by a pin stuck through the rushlight. Nor has the wizard forgotten how to cure inflammation with a "thunderbolt," generally an ancient stone or bronze hatchet dug up in the fields, nor how to punish an enemy by means of a heart stuck full of pins and bung in the chimney. These are but a few out of hundreds to be found in Brand’s Popular Antiquities and the volumes published by the Folklore Society, or in the similar collections from every country of Europe. If any one wonders that popular magic still enjoys much credit in the peasant class, it should be remembered that even the educated world still shows a remarkable unreasonableness in connecting causes and effects. Thus the old magical belief survives that a loadstone, because it draws steel, will also draw out pain. Peasants may well carry a magnet in their trousers’ pocket against rheumatism when better-informed people will wear with as great confidence a "galvanic belt," though any electrician will tell them it has not the power to hurt or cure a fly. One of the most favourable proofs of the changed public opinion in England is seen in the laws, where the penalties of the old statute against those who keep familiar demons are abolished, and the time-honoured charge has disappeared from the commission of the peace to inquire of all "inchantments, sorceries, art magic, trespasses, forestallings, regratings, &c." But persons pretending to exercise witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment, or conjuration, or undertaking to tell fortunes or pretending by occult or crafty science to discover lost or stolen goods, may be imprisoned under 9 Geo. II. c. 5, or fortune-tellers dealt with as rogues and vagabonds under 5 Geo. IV. c. 83, or they may be prosecuted for obtaining money under false pretences.

Looked at as a series of delusions, magic is distasteful to the modern mind, which, once satisfied of its practical futility, is apt to discard it as folly unworthy of further notice. This, however, is hardly doing it justice, for in the early developments of the human mind both religion and science were intimately connected with magic, whose various branches, unfruitful as they may be, are nevertheless growths from the tree of knowledce. 'The universal diffusion of magical ideas among mankind, excepting only the limited class who have abandoned them through higher education, shows that we are here in presence of a deep-seated intellectual process, while the strong likeness in the principles of magic among the rudest tribes points to its having sprung up under most ancient aud primitive conditions. The connexion between magic and religion in its lower stages is obvious from the impossibility of separating them, inasmuch as in every country sorcerers and diviners, savage or civilized, are found invoking the aid of ghosts, demons, or gods, to give them information or execute their will. So far as magic is ascribed to the influence of spirits, its theory belongs to the animistic philosophy developed in the lower levels of civilization, where all the powers of life and nature are set down to spiritual beings (see ANIMISM). A chief part of the magician’s business being to converse with spirits and gain their help, he sets about this in various ways. More often than not the spirit is considered to be a human ghost, which behaves much as it did while it was still a living man’s soul; or if it is called a demon or deity, still these are beings modelled on the human soul. Thus their manner of hearing prayers and receiving offerings is like human intercourse, especially in the frequent cases where the sorcerer is a "medium" possessed by the spirit, who is considered to inhabit his body like his ordinary soul, and to give oracles speaking by his human voice. In such supposed interviews with spirits there is plenty of delusion and fraud, but nothing specially magical; and, in fact, were the whole craft of the sorcerer of this spiritualistic kind, there would be no practical distinction between the sorcerer and the priest, and magic would fall into its place as an inferior branch of religion. It is because rnagical practices are by no means accounted for altogether by the doctrine of spirits, but involve other special explanations of their own that it is found convenient to make magic a department by itself. Such explanation is needed in ordinary magical practices, like that of the American medicine-man, who draws a deer on a piece of bark and shoots at it, expecting thereby to kill a real deer next day, or of the Tongan soothsayer, who spins a cocoa-nut as a teetotum, in order to discover a thief by noticing towards whom the monkey-face of the nut is looking when it stops. The magical train of thought which leads men to resort to such devices is childishly simple. It is merely imperfect reasoning, the mistaking of an ideal connexion for a real one, the confusion of ineffective analogy with effective cause. Our minds go with those of the barbaric magicians so far as to recognize the analogy between shooting an animal and its picture; we see as plainly as they that the cocoa-nut as it were looks in a particular direction. The difference is that, in the magical stage of thought, these are taken to be real connexions, while more advanced knowledge discards them as ideal. As Wilhelm von Humboldt well remarks, "Man begins by seeking the connexion even of external phenomena in the region of thought ; . . . . pure observation, still more experiment, follow at a wide distance after ideal or phantastic systems. Man’s first attempt is to govern nature through its idea."

So much of the intellect of mankind has been spent since remote antiquity on magic that it may seem hard to believe the chief secret of the occult sciences to be after all nothing but bad reasoning. This at any rate is very unlike the theories propounded by those who have condemned magic as a real craft made known to man by diabolical influence, or by those who have thought to find in its mystic precepts relics of antique wisdom. The question is not, however, an abstruse one, for every reader has the means of satisfying himself by inspection of a few magical processes, as to what amount of reason really goes to making them. In a large proportion of cases there may be perceived, not absolute nonsense, but a kind of half-formed sense stopping short of practical value. There being an evident relation between an object and the thought of it, it becomes one of the chief practices of the sorcerer to try to inake things happen by thinking about them. Thus he so "takes the will for the deed" that when he "ill-wishes" his enemies, and looks upon them with the "evil eye," he believes that he does them direct harm. On the other hand, those who know or suspect that such influence has been used against them suffer in reality from fear, often even dying of it. The belief in this mysterious power furnishes an explanation which is resorted to when any one falls ill or has any misfortune, and thus the belief in witchcraft among savages leads to constant enmity and reven,e. Nor is this state of things to be traced only in what is called the uncivilized world, for those who have much intercourse with English country folks may still meet with instances of some cow or child firmly believed to have been "overlooked," the death of which may possibly be revenged on a neighbouring cottager, supposed to be the witch. Whenever a good or evil wish is uttered in words, it becomes a blessing or curse. When these are addressed to some deity or demon, they are in fact prayers, but when they are merely expressed wishes, without reference to any spiritual being, then their supposed effects are purely magical. Thus, in an ancient Hindu love-charm, the girl expects to bring back an offended lover by repeating the formula, "May thy heart devour itself for me, may thy dry mouth water for me!" &c. Still more does this kind of magic explain itself in the various rites where some object is used as a symbol, and the association of ideas transfers whatever is done to it to the person it represents. Thus Ovid’s sorceress (Heroid., vi. 91)—

"simulacraque cerea fingit,
Et miserum tenuis in jecur urget acus."

King James in his Daemonotogy says that "the devil teacheth how to make pictures of wax or clay, that by roasting thereof the persons that they bear the name of may be continually melted or dried away by continual sickness." By a similar association of ideas, any object which has belonged to a person may be thus practised on, as has been already here mentioned among the South Sea islanders, or, to take a case nearer home, when in 1618 two women were executed at Lincoln for burying the glove of Henry Lord Rosse, so that, "as that glove did rot and waste, so did the liver of the said lord rot and waste." By like reasoning, when internal disease is ascribed to knots within the patient’s body, it becomes a branch of witchcraft to tie magic knots, which produce their corresponding effect within the victim. Kindlier though not less delusive operations of misunderstood analogy are found in attempted cures by sympathetic magic, on the same principle which malignant sorcerers would have used in giving the disease itself. Thus knots are untied in order to untie internal complications in the sick beast, and weapons treated to cure by sympathy the wounds they made:—-

"But she has ta’en the broken lance,
And washed it from the clotted gore,
And salved the splinter o’er and o’er.
William of Deloraine in trance,
Whene’er she turned it round and round,
Twisted, as if she galled his wound.
Then to her maidens she did say
That he should be whole man and sound
Within the course of a night and day."

—Lay of the Last Minstrel, iii. 23.

The herbs used as medicaments in the infancy of medicine appear to have been chosen for magical rather than medical motives, by a kind of reasoning which comes out very plainly among Chinese physicians, who administer the heads, middles, and roots of plants to cure their patients’ heads, bodies, and legs respectively. In like manner European doctors long followed the "doctrine of signatures," which was in fact mere magic,—prescribing euphrasy or "eye-bright" for complaints of the eyes, because of the likeness of an eye in the flower, and treat-ing, small-pox with mulberries because their colour made them proper to diseases of the blood (see Pettigrew, Superstitions of Medicine and Surgery). The same easily--understood though practically absurd principle may be seen to have guided the processes of divination, many of which show plainly the association of ideas that suggested them. Thus, in the Roman augury already mentioned, there is no difficulty in following the fancy which made the war-eagle give an omen of victory, but attached a doleful foreboding to the melancholy owl. The same half--rational meaning explains the reversal of omens accord-ingly as they come on the right or left, that is, the good or bad hand. Any one who glances through one of the cheap dream-books still bought by servant-maids, which fairly represent the ancient books on oneiromancy, such as that of Artemidorus, will find many of the analogies still intelligible on which they are founded, as that to dream of washing one’s hands presages relief from anxiety, while he who dreams of losing a tooth will lose a friend. The ancient art of chiromancy, or telling fortunes by the hand, goes on the evident analogy between the lines of the palm and the diverging courses of human life; closely allied to this is scapulimancy or divining by the cracks of a shoulder-blade put into the fire. Of divination by lots, so common that the term for throwing lots (sortes) has passed into sorcery, there are many varieties. Some are quite pictorial, such as the Maori diviner’s sticks set up in the ground to show by their standing or falling the fate of the warriors they represent. But this strong analogy is not necessary, for it only requires a particular lot to be mentally associated with a particular idea to make the diviner believe that the fall of that lot makes that idea true. It would be tedious to go at length through other details of magic where the same key of imperfect analogy applies. But it may be pointed out that this explanation is nowhere more conclusive than in astrology. The very foundation of the science of the horoscope lies in the mere analogy between the rising of a star above the horizon and the birth of a man. Such circumstances as whether a planet is in conjunction or opposition alter their effect on the "native" in corresponditig ways. The names of gods, happening to be given also to certain planets, are taken as omens, so that because a planet bears the name of Mercury it is brought into fanciful connexion with wisdom, and in like manner the planet Venus with love. Each planet having a colour assigned to it, the aspect of Mars or Saturn is believed to tell one, when in quest of a thief, whether he will have on red or black clothes. So the arbitrary names of the signs of the zodiac are made into presages, a just person being found under the sign of Libra, and charms against bugs being effective in the sign of Cancer. For convenience some of these examples are taken from modern handbooks of astrology, but in principle the old starcraft has changed little in the course of ages. In the study of magic it is necessary further to notice that precepts which seem quite arbitrary, not showing even fanciful half-reason, are often explained on further examination, which gives the key to the symbolic process by which they are formed. For instance, it would hardly be guessed why Cancer should be a sign involving movableness, but Scorpio firmness, were it not known that this result is obtained by arranging the twelve signs in order as they stand, as successively movable, fixeld, and double (see Proclus, Paraphrasis, i. 15). Con-sidering the antiquity of magic, the wonder is not that so much of its sense should be lost, but that so much is still intelligible.1 Various other causes may be traced in the occult sciences, among which can only be mentioned here rhabdomancy or the use of the divining rod, by which the, cunning man professes to discover water springs, murderers, or hidden treasure. Here it is evident that the decision is really arrived at by the diviner himself, not by the twig, and the same is true of various similar arts. From the earliest times also tricks of sleight-of-hand, &c., have been passed off by magicians as miracles to deceive their dupes.; our language still testifies to this in the use of the word conjuror, the wonder-worker carrying on the old juggling, although no longer evoking demons to give him his mysterious power.

Hitherto magic has been dealt with on its delusive and harmful side, this being what most practically manifests itself in history. Yet it must be borne in mind that in its early stages it has been a source of real knowledge. True as it is that misunderstood facts and misleading analogies have produced its delusions, its imperfect arguments have been steps towards more perfect reasoning. Analogy has always been the forerunner of scientific thought, and, as experience corrected and restricted it into real effectiveness, from age to age whole branches of what was magic passed into the realm of science. The vague and misleading parts which could not be thus transformed were left behind as occult science, and thus the very reason why magic is almost all bad is because when any of it becomes good it ceases to be magic. From this point of view the intellectual position of magic is well expressed by Adolf Bastian (Rechtsalterthümer, p. 242):—"Sorcery, or, in its higher expression, magic, marks the first dawning consciousness of mutual connexion throughout nature, in which man, feeling himself part of the whole, thinks himself able to interfere for his own wishes or needs. So long as religion fills the whole horizon of culture, the vague groping of magic contains the first experiments which lead to the results of exact science. Magic is the physics of mankind in the state of nature. It rests on the beginning of induction, which remains without result only because in its imperfect judgments by analogy it raises the post hoc to the propter hoc, &c." The nature-spirits and demons with which the magician has so much to do represent indeed the notion of physical cause in the rudimentary science of the lower races, while the association of ideas on which his sorcery and divination is based has much the same relation to the scientific induction which succeeds it. That this view is sound is best shown by noticing the great departments of science whose early development is known to have taken place through magic. Astronomy grew up in Babylon, not through quest of mechanical laws of the universe, but through observation of the heavens to obtain presages of wars and harvest; while even in modern times Kepler’s discoveries in physical astronomy were led up to through mystic magical speculations. In alchemy appears the early history of chemistry, which only emancipated itself in modern ages from its magical surroundings. The astrological connexion of the metals each with its planet was one of its fundamental ideas, of which the traces are still to be found in the name of the metal "mercury," and that of "lunar caustic" for silver nitrate. Lastly, the history of medicine goes back to the times when primitive science accepted demoniacal possession as the rational means of accounting, for disease, and magical operations with herbs originated their more practical use in materia medica. (E. B. T.)


FOOTNOTES (page 199)

(1) The etymology of the word is seen in the terms "art magic," or the "magic art"; French, art magique; Latin, magica ars.

(2) For these and other details see Grey, Journals of Expeditions; Waitz, Anthropologie der Naturvölker, vol. vi. ; Brough Smyth, Aborigines of Victoria; Fison and Howitt, Kamilaroi and Kurnai, &c.

FOOTNOTES (page 200)

(1) See Ellis, Polynesian Researches ; Turner, Nineteen Years in Polynesia ; Polack, Manners and Customs of New Zealanders; Waitz, vols. v., vi.

(2) See Waitz, vol. iii. ; Martius, Éthnographie Amerikas ; Letters of Columbus ; Dobrizhoffer, Abipones ; Schoolcraft, Indian Tribes of North America.

(3) See Burton, Lake Regions of Central Africa ; Wood, Natural History of Man, vol. i. ; Callaway, Religious System of Amazulu, &c.

(4) See Ellis, .Madagascar vol. ii. chaps. vi., xv.; Dahle in Antananarivo Annual, 1876.

FOOTNOTES (page 201)

(1) Records of the Past, vols. vi., x. ; Maspero, Hist. Anc. des Peupla de I’Orient, p. 84 ; F. Chabas, Le Papyrus Magique Harris.

(2) See Sayee in Records ofthe Past, vols. i, iii., v.; Trans. Soc. Biblical Archaeology, vols. iii., iv. ; Lenormant, Magic chez les Chaldéens, and Divination chez les Chaldéens.

FOOTNOTES (page 203)

(1) See, for instance, Herklot’s translation of the Qanoon-e-lslam.

(2) See Weber, Omina et Portenta, and volumes of Indische Studien.

(3) Haas, in Indische Studien, vol. v. p. 257 ; Pictet, Origines Indo-Européennes, part ii. p. 498.

FOOTNOTES (page 204)

(1) See Mohl, Y-king; Pauthier, Livres Sacrés de l’Orient.

(2) See Eitel, Handbook of Chinese Buddhism; Edkins, Folklore of China, p. 65.

(3) For an excellent account of the classical and mediaeval history of magic see Maury, La Magie et l’Astrologie.

FOOTNOTE (page 206)

1 For details of the association of ideas in magic see Tylor, Early Hist. of Mankind. chap. vi. and Primitive Culture chap. iv.

The above article was written by Edward Burnett Tylor, LL.D., D.C.L., F.R.S., Professor of Anthropology, Oxford University; Keeper of the University Museum since 1883; author of Anahuac, Mexico and the Mexicans; Researches into the Early History of Mankind; Primitive Culture; Anthropology; and The Natural History of Religion.

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