Magic (paranormal)

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"Magia" redirects here. For other uses of "magic" or "magical", see Magic (disambiguation). For other uses of "magia", see Magia (disambiguation).

"Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses" by John William Waterhouse

Magic or sorcery is an attempt to understand, experience and influence the world using rituals, symbols, actions, gestures and language.[1][2][3][4] Modern Western magicians generally state magic's primary purpose to be personal spiritual growth.[5] Modern theories of magic may see it as the result of a universal sympathy where some act can produce a result somewhere else, or as a collaboration with spirits who cause the effect.[6] The belief in and the practice of magic has been present since the earliest human cultures and continues to have an important spiritual, religious and medicinal role in many cultures today.[7][8] Magic is often viewed with suspicion by the wider community, and is sometimes practiced in isolation and secrecy.[4]

The concept of magic as a category separate from religion was first widely recognized in Judaism, which derided as magic the practices of pagan worship designed to appease and receive benefits from gods other than Yahweh.[2] Hanegraaff argues that magic is in fact "a largely polemical concept that has been used by various religious interest groups either to describe their own religious beliefs and practices or – more frequently – to discredit those of others."[3] Magical rituals are the precisely defined actions (including speech) used to work magic. Magic often utilizes symbols that are thought to be intrinsically efficacious. The performance of magic almost always involves the use of language. Another potential source of the power of words is their secrecy and exclusivity. The possession of magical knowledge alone may be insufficient to grant magical power; often a person must also possess certain magical objects, traits or life experiences in order to be a magician. In non-scientific societies, perceived magical attack is an idea sometimes employed to explain personal or societal misfortune.[9]

The foremost perspectives on magic in anthropology are functionalist, symbolist and intellectualist. The term "magical thinking" in anthropology, psychology, and cognitive science refers to causal reasoning often involving associative thinking, such as the perceived ability of the mind to affect the physical world (see the philosophical problem of mental causation) or correlation mistaken for materialist causation. Psychological theories treat magic as a personal phenomenon intended to meet individual needs, as opposed to a social phenomenon serving a collective purpose. The belief that one can influence supernatural powers, by prayer, sacrifice or invocation goes back to prehistoric religion and is present in early records such as the Egyptian pyramid texts and the Indian Vedas.[10] Magic and religion are categories of beliefs and systems of knowledge used within societies. Appearing in various tribal peoples from Aboriginal Australia and Māori New Zealand to the Amazon, African savannah, and pagan Europe, some form of shamanic contact with the spirit world seems to be nearly universal in the early development of human communities. In general, the 20th century has seen a sharp rise in public interest in various forms of magical practice, and the foundation of a number of traditions and organisations, ranging from the distinctly religious to the philosophical.


Common features of magical practice


See also: Theurgy

Magical rituals are the precisely defined actions (including speech) used to work magic. Bronisław Malinowski describes ritual language as possessing a high "coefficient of weirdness", by which he means that the language used in ritual is archaic and out of the ordinary, which helps foster the proper mindset to believe in the ritual.[11] S. J. Tambiah notes, however, that even if the power of the ritual is said to reside in the words, "the words only become effective if uttered in a very special context of other action."[12] These other actions typically consist of gestures, possibly performed with special objects at a particular place or time. Object, location, and performer may require purification beforehand. This caveat draws a parallel to the felicity conditions J. L. Austin requires of performative utterances.[13] By "performative" Austin means that the ritual act itself achieves the stated goal. For example, a wedding ceremony can be understood as a ritual, and only by properly performing the ritual does the marriage occur. Émile Durkheim stresses the importance of rituals as a tool to achieve "collective effervescence", which serves to help unify society. On the other hand, some psychologists compare such rituals to obsessive-compulsive rituals, noting that attentional focus falls on the lower level representation of simple gestures.[14] This results in goal demotion, as the ritual places more emphasis on performing the ritual just right than on the connection between the ritual and the goal.

Magical symbols

Helm of Awe (ægishjálmr) - magical symbol worn by Vikings for invincibility. Modern day use by Ásatrú followers for protection.

Magic often utilizes symbols that are thought to be intrinsically efficacious. Anthropologists, such as Sir James Frazer (1854–1938), have characterized the implementation of symbols into two primary categories: the "principle of similarity", and the "principle of contagion." Frazer further categorized these principles as falling under "sympathetic magic", and "contagious magic." Frazer asserted that these concepts were "general or generic laws of thought, which were misapplied in magic."[15]

Principle of similarity

The principle of similarity, also known as the "association of ideas", which falls under the category of sympathetic magic, is the thought that if a certain result follows a certain action, then that action must be responsible for the result. Therefore, if one is to perform this action again, the same result can again be expected. One classic example of this mode of thought is that of the rooster and the sunrise. When a rooster crows, it is a response to the rising of the sun. Based on sympathetic magic, one might interpret these series of events differently. The law of similarity would suggest that since the sunrise follows the crowing of the rooster, the rooster must have caused the sun to rise.[16] Causality is inferred where it might not otherwise have been. Therefore, a practitioner might believe that if he is able to cause the rooster to crow, he will be able to control the timing of the sunrise. Another use of the principle of similarity is the construction and manipulation of representations of some target to be affected (e.g. voodoo dolls), believed to bring about a corresponding effect on the target (e.g. breaking a limb of a doll will bring about an injury in the corresponding limb of someone depicted by the doll).

Principle of contagion

Another primary type of magical thinking includes the principle of contagion. This principle suggests that once two objects come into contact with each other, they will continue to affect each other even after the contact between them has been broken. One example that Tambiah gives is related to adoption. Among some American Indians, for example, when a child is adopted, his or her adoptive mother will pull the child through some of her clothes, symbolically representing the birth process and thereby associating the child with herself.[17] Therefore, the child emotionally becomes hers even though their relationship is not biological. As Claude Lévi-Strauss would put it: the birth "would consist, therefore, in making explicit a situation originally existing on the emotional level and in rendering acceptable to the mind pains which the body refuses to tolerate...the woman believes in the myth and belongs to a society which believes in it."[18]

Symbols, for many cultures that use magic, are seen as a type of technology. Natives might use symbols and symbolic actions to bring about change and improvements, much like Western cultures might use advanced irrigation techniques to promote soil fertility and crop growth. Michael Brown discusses the use of nantag stones among the Aguaruna as being similar to this type of "technology."[19] These stones are brought into contact with stem cuttings of plants like manioc before they are planted in an effort to promote growth. Nantag are powerful tangible symbols of fertility, so they are brought into contact with crops to transmit their fertility to the plants.

Others argue that ritualistic actions are merely therapeutic. Tambiah cites the example of a native hitting the ground with a stick. While some may interpret this action as symbolic (i.e. the man is trying to make the ground yield crops through force), others would simply see a man unleashing his frustration at poor crop returns. Ultimately, whether or not an action is symbolic depends upon the context of the situation as well as the ontology of the culture. Many symbolic actions are derived from mythology and unique associations, whereas other ritualistic actions are just simple expressions of emotion and are not intended to enact any type of change.

Magical language

See also: Spell (paranormal) and Magic word

The performance of magic almost always involves the use of language. Whether spoken out loud or unspoken, words are frequently used to access or guide magical power. In "The Magical Power of Words" (1968) S. J. Tambiah argues that the connection between language and magic is due to a belief in the inherent ability of words to influence the universe. Bronisław Malinowski, in Coral Gardens and their Magic (1935), suggests that this belief is an extension of man's basic use of language to describe his surroundings, in which "the knowledge of the right words, appropriate phrases and the more highly developed forms of speech, gives man a power over and above his own limited field of personal action."[20] Magical speech is therefore a ritual act and is of equal or even greater importance to the performance of magic than non-verbal acts.[21]

Not all speech is considered magical. Only certain words and phrases or words spoken in a specific context are considered to have magical power.[22] Magical language, according to C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards's (1923) categories of speech, is distinct from scientific language because it is emotive and it converts words into symbols for emotions; whereas in scientific language words are tied to specific meanings and refer to an objective external reality.[23] Magical language is therefore particularly adept at constructing metaphors that establish symbols and link magical rituals to the world.[24]

Malinowski argues that "the language of magic is sacred, set and used for an entirely different purpose to that of ordinary life."[25] The two forms of language are differentiated through word choice, grammar, style, or by the use of specific phrases or forms:spells, songs, blessings, or chants, for example. Sacred modes of language often employ archaic words and forms in an attempt to invoke the purity or "truth" of a religious or a cultural "golden age". The use of Hebrew in Judaism is an example.[26]

Another potential source of the power of words is their secrecy and exclusivity. Much sacred language is differentiated enough from common language that it is incomprehensible to the majority of the population and it can only be used and interpreted by specialized practitioners (magicians, priests, shamans, even mullahs).[27][28] In this respect, Tambiah argues that magical languages violate the primary function of language: communication.[29] Yet adherents of magic are still able to use and to value the magical function of words by believing in the inherent power of the words themselves and in the meaning that they must provide for those who do understand them. This leads Tambiah to conclude that "the remarkable disjunction between sacred and profane language which exists as a general fact is not necessarily linked to the need to embody sacred words in an exclusive language."[26]


Main article: Magician (paranormal)

The "Magician" card from a 15th-century tarot deck.

A magician is any practitioner of magic, even if they are specialists or common practitioners who do not consider themselves to be magicians.[30]

The possession of magical knowledge alone may be insufficient to grant magical power; often a person must also possess certain magical objects, traits or life experiences in order to be a magician. Among the Azande, for example, in order to question an oracle a man must have both the physical oracle (poison, or a washboard, for example) and knowledge of the words and the rites needed to make the object function.[31]

A variety of personal traits may be credited with giving magical power, and frequently they are associated with an unusual birth into the world.[32] For example, in 16th century Friuli, babies born with the caul were believed to be benandanti or "Good Walkers" who would battle evil witches in night time battles over the bounty of the next year's crops. They did not particularly think of themselves as witches, though the term was only later applied to them by the Catholic Church as the Italian Inquisition came under way.[33]

Certain post-birth experiences are also be believed to convey magical power. For example a person's survival of a near-death illness may be taken as evidence of their power as a healer: in Bali a medium's survival is proof of her association with a patron deity and therefore her ability to communicate with other gods and spirits.[34] Initiations are perhaps the most commonly used ceremonies to establish and to differentiate magicians from common people. In these rites the magician's relationship to the supernatural and his entry into a closed professional class is established, often through rituals that simulate death and rebirth into a new life.[35]

Given the exclusivity of the criteria needed to become a magician, much magic is performed by specialists.[36] Laypeople will likely have some simple magical rituals for everyday living, but in situations of particular importance, especially when health or major life events are concerned, a specialist magician will often be consulted.[37] The powers of both specialist and common magicians are determined by culturally accepted standards of the sources and the breadth of magic. A magician may not simply invent or claim new magic; the magician is only as powerful as his peers believe him to be.[38]

In different cultures, various types of magicians may be differentiated based on their abilities, their sources of power, and on moral considerations, including divisions into different categories like sorcerer, wizard, witch, healer and others.


Main article: Witchcraft

In non-scientific societies, perceived magical attack is an idea sometimes employed to explain personal or societal misfortune.[9] In anthropological and historical contexts this is often termed witchcraft or sorcery, and the perceived attackers "witches" or "sorcerers". Their maleficium is often seen as a biological trait or an acquired skill.[39] Known members of the community may be accused as witches, or the witches may be perceived as supernatural, non-human entities.[40] In early modern Europe and Britain such accusations led to the executions of tens of thousands of people, who were seen to be in league with Satan. Those accused of being satanic 'witches' were often practitioners of (usually benign) folk magic,[41] and the English term 'witch' was also sometimes used without its pejorative sense to describe such practitioners.[42]


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Anthropological and psychological origins

Definitions of relevant terminology

The foremost perspectives on magic in anthropology are functionalist, symbolist and intellectualist. These three perspectives are used to describe how magic works in a society. The functionalist perspective, usually associated with Bronisław Malinowski, maintains that all aspects of society are meaningful and interrelated.[43] In the functionalist perspective, magic performs a latent function in the society. The symbolist perspective researches the subtle meaning in rituals and myths that define a society[44] and deals with questions of theodicy—"why do bad things happen to good people?" Finally the intellectualist perspective, associated with Edward Burnett Tylor and Sir James Frazer, regard magic as logical, but based on a flawed understanding of the world.

Magical thinking

Main article: Magical thinking

The term "magical thinking" in anthropology, psychology, and cognitive science refers to causal reasoning often involving associative thinking, such as the perceived ability of the mind to affect the physical world (see the philosophical problem of mental causation) or correlation mistaken for materialist causation. Perceived causal associations between actions or events may derive from symbolic associations such as metaphor, metonym, "As above, so below" from Hermeticism and apparent synchronicity (coincidental magic).

Psychological theories of magic

Main article: Psychological theories of magic

Psychological theories treat magic as a personal phenomenon intended to meet individual needs, as opposed to a social phenomenon serving a collective purpose. The explanatory power of magic should not be underestimated, however. Both in the past and in the modern world magical belief systems can provide explanations for otherwise difficult or impossible to understand phenomena while providing a spiritual and metaphysical grounding for the individual. Furthermore, as both Brian Feltham and Scott E. Hendrix argue, magical beliefs need not represent a form of irrationality, nor should they be viewed as incompatible with modern views of the world.[45][46]

Intellectualist perspectives

Further information: Myth and ritual and Shamanism

The belief that one can influence supernatural powers, by prayer, sacrifice or invocation goes back to prehistoric religion and is present in early records such as the Egyptian pyramid texts and the Indian Vedas.[10]

James George Frazer asserted that magical observations are the result of an internal dysfunction: "Men mistook the order of their ideas for the order of nature, and hence imagined that the control which they have, or seem to have, over their thoughts, permitted them to exercise a corresponding control over things."[47]

Others, such as N. W. Thomas[48] and Sigmund Freud have rejected this explanation. Freud explains that "the associated theory of magic merely explains the paths along which magic proceeds; it does not explain its true essence, namely the misunderstanding which leads it to replace the laws of nature by psychological ones".[49] Freud emphasizes that what led primitive men to come up with magic is the power of wishes: "His wishes are accompanied by a motor impulse, the will, which is later destined to alter the whole face of the earth in order to satisfy his wishes. This motor impulse is at first employed to give a representation of the satisfying situation in such a way that it becomes possible to experience the satisfaction by means of what might be described as motor hallucinations. This kind of representation of a satisfied wish is quite comparable to children's play, which succeeds their earlier purely sensory technique of satisfaction. [...] As time goes on, the psychological accent shifts from the motives for the magical act on to the measures by which it is carried out—that is, on to the act itself. [...] It thus comes to appear as though it is the magical act itself which, owing to its similarity with the desired result, alone determines the occurrence of that result."[50]

Theories on the relationship of magic, science, art and religion

Main articles: Magic and religion and Myth and ritual

Magic and religion are categories of beliefs and systems of knowledge used within societies. While generally considered distinct categories in western cultures, the interactions, similarities, and differences have been central to the study of magic for many theorists in sociology and anthropology, including Frazer, Mauss, S. J. Tambiah, Malinowski, Michael Nevin and Isabelle Sarginson. From the intellectualist and functionalist perspectives, magic is often considered most analogous to science and technology.

Marcel Mauss

In A General Theory of Magic,[51] Marcel Mauss classifies magic as a social phenomenon, akin to religion and science, but yet a distinct category. In practice, magic bears a strong resemblance to religion. Both use similar types of rites, materials, social roles and relationships to accomplish aims and engender belief. They both operate on similar principles, in particular those of consecration and sanctity of objects and places, interaction with supernatural powers mediated by an expert, employment of symbolism, sacrifice, purification and representation in rites, and the importance of tradition and continuation of knowledge. Magic and religion also share a collective character and totality of belief. The rules and powers of each are determined by the community's ideals and beliefs and so may slowly evolve. Additionally neither supports partial belief. Belief in one aspect of the phenomena necessitates belief in the whole, and each incorporates structural loopholes to accommodate contradictions.

The distinction Mauss draws between religion and magic is both of sentiment and practice. He portrays magic as an element of pre-modern societies and in many respects an antithesis of religion. Magic is secretive and isolated, and rarely performed publicly in order to protect and to preserve occult knowledge. Religion is predictable and prescribed and is usually performed openly in order to impart knowledge to the community. While these two phenomena do share many ritual forms, Mauss concludes that "a magical rite is any rite that does not play a part in organized cults. It is private, secret, mysterious and approaches the limit of prohibited rite."[4] In practice, magic differs from religion in desired outcome. Religion seeks to satisfy moral and metaphysical ends, while magic is a functional art which often seeks to accomplish tangible results. In this respect magic resembles technology and science. Belief in each is diffuse, universal, and removed from the origin of the practice. Yet, the similarity between these social phenomena is limited, as science is based in experimentation and development, whereas magic is an "a priori belief."[52] Mauss concludes that though magical beliefs and rites are most analogous to religion, magic remains a social phenomenon distinct from religion and science with its own characteristic rules, acts and aims.

S. J. Tambiah

According to Stanley Tambiah, magic, science, and religion all have their own "quality of rationality", and have been influenced by politics and ideology.[53] Tambiah also believes that the perceptions of these three ideas have evolved over time as a result of Western thought. The lines of demarcation between these ideas depend upon the perspective of a variety of anthropologists, but Tambiah has his own opinions regarding magic, science, and religion.

According to Tambiah, religion is based on an organized community, and it is supposed to encompass all aspects of life. In religion, man is obligated to an outside power and he is supposed to feel piety towards that power. Religion is effective and attractive because it is generally exclusive and strongly personal. Also, because religion affects all aspects of life, it is convenient in the sense that morality and notions of acceptable behavior are imposed by God and the supernatural. Science, on the other hand, suggests a clear divide between nature and the supernatural, making its role far less all-encompassing than that of religion.

As opposed to religion, Tambiah suggests that mankind has a much more personal control over events. Science, according to Tambiah, is "a system of behavior by which man acquires mastery of the environment."[54] Whereas in religion nature and the supernatural are connected and essentially interchangeable, in science, nature and the supernatural are clearly separate spheres. Also, science is a developed discipline; a logical argument is created and can be challenged. The base of scientific knowledge can be extended, while religion is more concrete and absolute. Magic, the less accepted of the three disciplines in Western society, is an altogether unique idea.

Tambiah states that magic is a strictly ritualistic action that implements forces and objects outside the realm of the gods and the supernatural. These objects and events are said to be intrinsically efficacious, so that the supernatural is unnecessary. To some, including the Greeks, magic was considered a "proto-science." Magic has other historical importance as well.

Much of the debate between religion and magic originated during the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Church was attacked for its doctrine of transubstantiation because it was considered a type of sacramental magic. Furthermore, the possibility of anything happening outside of God's purpose was denied. Spells[55] were viewed as ineffective and blasphemous, because religion required belief in "a conscious agent who could be deflected from this purpose by prayer and supplication."[56] Prayer was the only way to effectively enact positive change. The Protestant Reformation was a significant moment in the history of magical thought because Protestantism provided the impetus for a systematic understanding of the world. In this systematic framework, there was no room for magic and its practices. Besides the Reformation, the Renaissance was an influential epoch in the history of thought concerning magic and science.

During the Renaissance, magic was less stigmatized even though it was done in secret and therefore considered "occult". Renaissance magic was based on cosmology, and its powers were said to be derived from the stars and the alignment of the planets. Newton himself began his work in mathematics because he wanted to see "whether judicial astrology had any claim to validity."[57]

The lines of demarcation between science, magic, and religion all have origins dating to times when established thought processes were challenged. The rise of Western thought essentially initiated the differentiation between the three disciplines. Whereas science could be revised and developed through rational thought, magic was seen as less scientific and systematic than science and religion, making it the least respected of the three.

Bronisław Malinowski

Main article: Bronisław Malinowski

In his essay "Magic, Science and Religion", Bronisław Malinowski contends that every person, no matter how primitive, uses both magic and science. To make this distinction he breaks up this category into the "sacred" and the "profane"[58] or "magic/religion" and science. He theorizes that feelings of reverence and awe rely on observation of nature and a dependence on its regularity. This observation and reasoning about nature is a type of science. Magic and science both have definite aims to help "human instincts, needs and pursuits."[59] Both magic and science develop procedures that must be followed to accomplish specific goals. Magic and science are both based on knowledge; magic is knowledge of the self and of emotion, while science is knowledge of nature.

According to Malinowski, magic and religion are also similar in that they often serve the same function in a society. The difference is that magic is more about the personal power of the individual and religion is about faith in the power of God. Magic is also something that is passed down over generations to a specific group while religion is more broadly available to the community.

To end his essay, Malinowski poses the question, "why magic?" He writes, "Magic supplies primitive man with a number of ready-made rituals, acts and beliefs, with a definite mental and practical technique which serves to bridge over the dangerous gaps in every important pursuit or critical situation."[60]

Robin Horton

In "African Traditional Thought and Western Science,"[61] Robin Horton compares the magical and religious thinking of non-modernized cultures with western scientific thought. He argues that both traditional beliefs and western science are applications of "theoretical thinking." The common form, function, and purpose of these theoretical idioms are therefore structured and explained by eight main characteristics of this type of thought:

  1. In all cultures the majority of human experience can be explained by common sense. The purpose then of theory is to explain forces that operate behind and within the commonsense world. Theory should impose order and reason on everyday life by attributing cause to a few select forces.[62]

  2. Theories also help place events in a causal context that is greater than common sense alone can provide, because commonsense causation is inherently limited by what we see and experience. Theoretical formulations are therefore used as intermediaries to link natural effects to natural causes.[63]

  3. "Common sense and theory have complementary roles in everyday life."[64] Common sense is more handy and useful for a wide range of everyday circumstances, but occasionally there are circumstances that can only be explained using a wider causal vision, so a jump to theory is made.

  4. "Levels of theory vary with context."[65] There are widely and narrowly encompassing theories, and the individual can usually chose which to use in order to understand and explain a situation as is deemed appropriate.

  5. All theory breaks up aspects of commonsense events, abstracts them and then reintegrates them into the common usage and understanding.[66]

  6. Theory is usually created by analogy between unexplained and familiar phenomena.[67]

  7. When theory is based on analogy between explained and unexplained observations, "generally only a limited aspect of the familiar phenomena is incorporated into (the) explanatory model".[68] It is this process of abstraction that contributes to the ability of theories to transcend commonsense explanation. For example, gods have the quality of spirituality by omission of many common aspects of human life.

  8. Once a theoretical model has been established, it is often modified to explain contradictory data so that it may no longer represent the analogy on which is was based.[69]

While both traditional beliefs and western science are based on theoretical thought, Horton argues that the differences between these knowledge systems in practice and form are due to their states in open and closed cultures.[70] He classifies scientifically oriented cultures as "open" because they are aware of other modes of thought, while traditional cultures are "closed" because they are unaware of alternatives to the established theories. The varying sources of information in these systems results in differences in form which, Horton asserts, often blinds observers from seeing the similarities between the systems as two applications of theoretical thought.

Alan Moore

Alan Moore says that magic is indistinguishable from art whether it be writing, music, sculpture, or any other form. He supports his proposition by stating that magic is referred to in early texts simply as "the art". Also books of spells were referred to as "grimoires" in the past which is another way of saying "grammar" and to cast a spell means simply to spell. He states that magic is simply the manipulation of symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness.[71][72]


Further information: History of astrology and History of religions

Ancient Egypt

Egyptians believed that with Heka, the activation of the Ka, an aspect of the soul of both gods and humans, (and divine personification of magic), they could influence the gods and gain protection, healing and transformation. Health and wholeness of being were sacred to Heka. There is no word for religion in the ancient Egyptian language as mundane and religious world views were not distinct; thus, Heka was not a secular practice but rather a religious observance. Every aspect of life, every word, plant, animal and ritual was connected to the power and authority of the gods.[73]

In ancient Egypt, magic consisted of four components; the primeval potency that empowered the creator-god was identified with Heka, who was accompanied by magical rituals known as Seshaw held within sacred texts called Rw. In addition Pekhret, medicinal prescriptions, were given to patients to bring relief. This magic was used in temple rituals as well as informal situations by priests. These rituals, along with medical practices, formed an integrated therapy for both physical and spiritual health. Magic was also used for protection against the angry deities, jealous ghosts, foreign demons and sorcerers who were thought to cause illness, accidents, poverty and infertility.[74]


This section requires expansion. (November 2011)

In parts of Mesopotamian religion, magic was believed in and actively practiced. At the city of Uruk, archaeologists have excavated houses dating from the 5th and 4th centuries BCE in which cuneiform clay tablets have been unearthed containing magical incantations.[75]

Classical antiquity

Main article: Magic in the Greco-Roman world

Hecate, the ancient Greek goddess of magic.

In ancient Greece magic was involved in practice of religion, medicine, and divination.[76][not in citation given]

The Greek mystery religions had strongly magical components,[citation needed] and in Egypt, a large number of magical papyri, in Greek, Coptic, and Demotic, have been recovered.[citation needed] They contain early instances of:

The practice of magic was banned in the Roman world, and the Codex Theodosianus states:[78]

If any wizard therefore or person imbued with magical contamination who is called by custom of the people a magician...should be apprehended in my retinue, or in that of the Caesar, he shall not escape punishment and torture by the protection of his rank.

Middle Ages

Ars magica or magic was a major component and supporting contribution to the belief and practice of spiritual, and in many cases, physical healing throughout the Middle Ages. Emanating from many modern interpretations lies a trail of misconceptions about magic, one of the largest revolving around wickedness or the existence of nefarious beings who practice it. These misinterpretations stem from numerous acts or rituals that have been performed throughout antiquity, and due to their exoticism from the commoner's perspective, the rituals invoked uneasiness and an even stronger sense of dismissal.[79][80]

Above the common civilian of the Middle Ages is the Christian Church, who rejected magic as a whole because it is viewed as a means of tampering with the natural world in a supernatural manner. (Deuteronomy 18:9-12) Despite the many negative connotations which surround the term magic, there exist many elements that are seen in a divine or holy light.[81]

The various yet sparse healers of the Middle Ages were the few, if not only, proponents of a positive impression of magic. One of the most famous healers of this time was Saint Hildegard of Bingen. Her healing abilities were so sought after that many individuals, healthy and ill alike, would travel great distances to be blessed by her.[82]

Modern historians of medicine along with the people of antiquity both possess no straightforward answer as to where her abilities derived from; however, many of these historians argue or speculate that they are related to mental visions of which recorded documents, such as her three volumes of visionary theology, depict. The volumes include: Scivias, (“Know the Ways”), Liber Vitae Meritorum, (“Book of Life's Merits”), and Liber Divinorum Operum (“Book of Divine Works”).[83]

A particular phenomenon deriving from healing magic is known as the “royal touch” or the “King's Touch”. It is believed that various kings and/or queens of the Middle Ages possessed the ability to heal ailing individuals by making physical contact near or directly on the afflicted area of the person. In a similar light, there also exist many folk scattered throughout the western medieval territories who claim to practice and carry this same gift. This has been commonly observed in many religious texts, The Bible being only one of the many pieces of religious literature which contain a plethora of such concepts. Another topic discussed among historians is the various tools or instruments used among these healers and other individuals who claim to practice the art of healing in a magical sense.

Diversified instruments or rituals used in medieval magic include, but are not limited to: various amulets, talismans, potions, as well as specific chants, dances, prayers. Along with these rituals are the adversely imbued notions of demonic participation which influence of them. The idea that magic was devised, taught, and worked by demons would have seemed reasonable to anyone who read the Greek magical papyri or the Sefer-ha-Razim and found that healing magic appeared alongside rituals for killing people, gaining wealth, or personal advantage, and coercing women into sexual submission.[84]

Interpreted by few scholars or historians is the belief that rituals practiced by churchmen of the Middle Ages were believed to hold a psychological efficacy; however, as also believed by the aforementioned historians, is that the said rituals provide essentially and fundamentally similar efficacies. The notions about magic hold a very diverse presence across the medieval land, and provide a sense of frequent discussion across, and between, the numerous varying sects of antiquity. Sects who have provided many thoughts and opinions about magic range from a variety of teachings or followings. Notable sects include but are not limited to Christians, Muslims, Theodosians, Pagans, Aristotelians, and Mystics.


Further information: Renaissance magic

Renaissance humanism saw resurgence in hermeticism and Neo-Platonic varieties of ceremonial magic. The Renaissance, on the other hand, saw the rise of science, in such forms as the dethronement of the Ptolemaic theory of the universe, the distinction of astronomy from astrology, and of chemistry from alchemy.[85]

The seven artes magicae or artes prohibitae or arts prohibited by canon law by Johannes Hartlieb in 1456 were: nigromancy (which included "black magic" and "demonology"), geomancy, hydromancy, aeromancy, pyromancy, chiromancy, and scapulimancy and their sevenfold partition emulated the artes liberales and artes mechanicae. Both bourgeoisie and nobility in the 15th and 16th century showed great fascination with these arts, which exerted an exotic charm by their ascription to Arabic, Jewish, Gypsy and Egyptian sources, and the popularity of white magic increased. However, there was great uncertainty in distinguishing practices of superstition, occultism, and perfectly sound scholarly knowledge or pious ritual. The intellectual and spiritual tensions erupted in the Early Modern witch craze, further reinforced by the turmoil of the Protestant Reformation, especially in Germany, England, and Scotland.[85]


Further information: 17th-century philosophy, natural magic and Isaac Newton's occult studies

A talisman from the Black Pullet, a late grimoire containing instructions on how a magician might cast rings and craft amulets for various magical applications, culminating in the Hen that Lays Golden Eggs.

Study of the occult arts remained intellectually respectable well into the 17th century, and only gradually divided into the modern categories of natural science, occultism, and superstition. The 17th century saw the gradual rise of the "age of reason", while belief in witchcraft and sorcery, and consequently the irrational surge of Early Modern witch trials, receded, a process only completed at the end of the Baroque period circa 1730. Christian Thomasius still met opposition as he argued in his 1701 Dissertatio de crimine magiae that it was meaningless to make dealing with the devil a criminal offence, since it was impossible to really commit the crime in the first place. In Britain, the Witchcraft Act of 1735 established that people could not be punished for consorting with spirits, while would-be magicians pretending to be able to invoke spirits could still be fined as con artists.

[The] wonderful power of sympathy, which exists throughout the whole system of nature, where everything is excited to beget or love its like, and is drawn after it, as the loadstone draws iron... There is ... such natural accord and discord, that some will prosper more luxuriantly in another's company; while some, again, will droop and die away, being planted near each other. The lily and the rose rejoice by each other's side; whilst ... fruits will neither ripen nor grow in aspects that are inimical to them. In stones likewise, in minerals, ... the same sympathies and antipathies are preserved. Animated nature, in every clime, in every corner of the globe, is also pregnant with similar qualities... Thus we find that one particular bone ... in a hare's foot instantly mitigates the most excruciating tortures of the cramp; yet no other bone nor part of that animal can do the like... From what has been premised, we may readily conclude that there are two distinct species of magic; one whereof, being inherent in the occult properties of nature, is called natural magic; and the other, being obnoxious and contrary to nature, is termed infernal magic, because it is accomplished by infernal agency or compact with the devil...[86]
Under the veil of natural magic, it hath pleased the Almighty to conceal many valuable and excellent gifts, which common people either think miraculous, or next to impossible. And yet in truth, natural magic is nothing more than the workmanship of nature, made manifest by art; for, in tillage, as nature produceth corn and herbs, so art, being nature's handmaid, prepareth and helpeth it forward... And, though these things, while they lie hid in nature, do many of them seem impossible and miraculous, yet, when they are known, and the simplicity revealed, our difficulty of apprehension ceases, and the wonder is at an end; for that only is wonderful to the beholder whereof he can conceive no cause nor reason... Many philosophers of the first eminence, as Plato, Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, &c. travelled through every region of the known world for the accomplishment of this kind of knowledge; and, at their return, they publicly preached and taught it. But above all, we learn from sacred and profane history, that Solomon was the greatest proficient in this art of any either before or since his time; as he himself hath declared in Ecclesiastes and the Book of Wisdom, where he saith,
"God hath given me the true science of things, so as to know how the world was made, and the power of the elements, the beginning, and the end, and the midst of times, the change of seasons, the courses of the year, and the situation of the stars, the nature of human beings, and the quality of beasts, the power of winds, and the imaginations of the mind; the diversities of plants, the virtues of roots, and all things whatsoever, whether secret or known, manifest or invisible."[87]
And hence it was that the magi, or followers of natural magic, were accounted wise, and the study honourable; because it consists in nothing more than the most profound and perfect part of natural philosophy, which defines the nature, causes, and effects, of things.[87]
How far such inventions as are called charms, amulets, periapts, and the like, have any foundation in natural magic, may be worth our enquiry; because, if cures are to be effected through their medium, and that without any thing derogatory to the attributes of the Deity, or the principles of religion, I see no reason why they should be rejected with that inexorable contempt which levels the works of God with the folly and weakness of men. Not that I would encourage superstition, or become an advocate for a ferrago of absurdities; but, when the simplicity of natural things, and their effects, are rejected merely to encourage professional artifice and emolument, it is prudent for us to distinguish between the extremes of bigoted superstition and total unbelief.[88]
It was the opinion of many eminent physicians, of the first ability and learning, that such kind of charms or periapts as consisted of certain odoriferous herbs, balsamic roots, mineral concretions, and metallic substances, might have, and most probably possessed, by means of their strong medicinal properties, the virtue of curing... though without the least surprise or admiration; because the one appears in a great measure to be the consequence of manual operation, which is perceptible and visible to the senses, whilst the other acts by an innate or occult power, which the eye cannot see, nor the mind so readily comprehend; yet, in both cases, perhaps, the effect is produced by a similar cause; and consequently all such remedies... are worthy of our regard, and ought to excite in us not only a veneration for the simple practice of the ancients in their medical experiments, but a due sense of gratitude to the wise Author of our being, who enables us, by such easy means, to remove the infirmities incident to mankind. Many reputable authors ... contend that not only such physical alligations, appensions, periapts, amulets, charms, &c. which, from their materials appear to imbibe and to diffuse the medical properties above described, ought in certain obstinate and equivocal disorders to be applied, but those likewise which from their external form and composition have no such inherent virtues to recommend them; for harm they can do none, and good they might do, either by accident or through the force of imagination. And it is asserted, with very great truth, that through the medium of hope and fear, sufficiently impressed upon the mind or imagination... Of the truth of this we have the strongest and most infallible evidence in the hiccough, which is instantaneously cured by any sudden effect of fear or surprise; ... Seeing, therefore, that such virtues lie hid in the occult properties of nature, united with the sense or imagination of man... without any compact with spirits, or dealings with the devil; we surely ought to receive them into our practice, and to adopt them as often as occasion seriously requires, although professional emolument and pecuniary advantage might in some instances be narrowed by it.[89][90]
Ebenezer Sibly (1751–1800), An Illustration of the Celestial Science of Astrology, Part the Fourth.
Containing the Distinction between Astrology and the Wicked Practice of Exorcism.
with a General Display of Witchcraft, Magic, and Divination,
founded upon the Existence of Spirits Good and Bad and their Affinity with the Affairs of this World.


From 1776 to 1781 AD, Jacob Philadelphia performed feats of magic, sometimes under the guise of scientific exhibitions, throughout Europe and Russia. Baron Carl Reichenbach's experiments with his Odic force appeared to be an attempt to bridge the gap between magic and science. More recent periods of renewed interest in magic occurred around the end of the 19th century, where Symbolism and other offshoots of Romanticism cultivated a renewed interest in exotic spiritualities. European colonialism put Westerners in contact with India and Egypt and re-introduced exotic beliefs. Hindu and Egyptian mythology frequently feature in 19th century magical texts.[citation needed] The late 19th century spawned a large number of magical organizations, including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Theosophical Society, and specifically magical variants on Freemasonry. The Golden Dawn represented perhaps the peak of this wave of magic, attracting cultural celebrities like William Butler Yeats, Algernon Blackwood, and Arthur Machen.[91]

In cultural contexts

Animism and folk religion

An 1873 Victorian illustration of a "Ju-ju house" on the Gold Coast showing fetishised skulls and bones.

Appearing in various tribal peoples from Aboriginal Australia and Māori New Zealand to the Amazon, African savannah, and pagan Europe, some form of shamanic contact with the spirit world seems to be nearly universal in the early development of human communities.

Although indigenous magical traditions persist to this day, very early on some communities transitioned from nomadic to agricultural civilizations, and with this shift, the development of spiritual life mirrored that of civic life. Just as tribal elders were consolidated and transformed into kings and bureaucrats, so too were shamans and adepts changed into priests and a priestly caste.

Juju charm protecting dugout canoe on riverbank, in Suriname.1954.

This shift is by no means in nomenclature alone. While the shaman's task was to negotiate between the tribe and the spirit world, on behalf of the tribe, as directed by the collective will of the tribe, the priest's role was to transfer instructions from the deities to the city-state, on behalf of the deities, as directed by the will of those deities. This shift represents the first major usurpation of power by distancing magic from those participating in that magic. It is at this stage of development that highly codified and elaborate rituals, setting the stage for formal religions, began to emerge, such as the funeral rites of the Egyptians and the sacrifice rituals of the Babylonians, Persians, Aztecs and Mayans.

In 2003, Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of Mbuti pygmies, told the UN's Indigenous People's Forum that during the Congo Civil War, his people were hunted down and eaten as though they were game animals. Both sides of the war regarded them as "subhuman" and some say their flesh can confer magical powers.[92][93]

On April, 2008, Kinshasa, the police arrested 14 suspected victims (of penis snatching) and sorcerers accused of using black magic or witchcraft to steal (make disappear) or shrink men's penises to extort cash for cure, amid a wave of panic.[94] Arrests were made in an effort to avoid bloodshed seen in Ghana a decade ago, when 12 alleged penis snatchers were beaten to death by mobs.[95]

Native American medicine

Main article: Shamanism § Americas

The Shamanism practiced by the indigenous peoples of the Americas was called "medicine" and was practiced by medicine men. In addition to healing, medicine served many other purposes, for example among the Cheyenne, one of Plains Indians that lived in the Great Plains of North America, medicine such as war paint, war shields, war shirts, and war bonnets, such as the famous war bonnet of Roman Nose, served to protect a warrior from wounding during battle.[96][97]

Magic in Hinduism

Traditional welcome performance, Mitral, Kheda district, Gujarat

The Atharva Veda is a veda that deals with mantras that can be used for both good and bad. The word mantrik in India literally means "magician" since the mantrik usually knows mantras, spells, and curses which can be used for or against all forms of magic. Tantra is likewise employed for ritual magic by the tantrik. Many ascetics after long periods of penance and meditation are alleged to attain a state where they may utilize supernatural powers. However, many say that they choose not to use them and instead focus on transcending beyond physical power into the realm of spirituality. Many siddhars are said to have performed miracles that would ordinarily be impossible to perform.

Western magic

Further information: Western esotericism

In general, the 20th century has seen a sharp rise in public interest in various forms of magical practice, and the foundation of a number of traditions and organisations, ranging from the distinctly religious to the philosophical.

In England, a further revival of interest in magic was heralded by the repeal of the last Witchcraft Act in 1951. In 1954 Gerald Gardner published a book, Witchcraft Today, in which he claimed to reveal the existence of a witch-cult that dated back to pre-Christian Europe. Although many of Gardner's claims have since come under intensive criticism from sources both within and without the Neopagan community, his works remain the most important founding stone of Wicca.

Gardner's newly created religion, and many others, took off in the atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s, when the counterculture of the hippies also spawned another period of renewed interest in magic, divination, and other occult practices.[98] The various branches of Neopaganism and other Earth religions that have emerged since Gardner's publication tend to follow a pattern in combining the practice of magic and religion, although this combination is not exclusive to them. Following the trend of magic associated with counterculture, some feminists launched an independent revival of goddess worship. This brought them into contact with the Gardnerian tradition of magical religion (or religious magic), and deeply influenced that tradition in return.[91]

The pentagram, an ancient geometrical symbol known from many cultures, is often associated with magic. In Europe, the Pythagoreans first used the pentagram as a symbol of their movement.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley's Thelema and their subsequent offshoots, influenced by Eliphas Levi, are most commonly associated with the resurgence of magical tradition in the English speaking world of the 20th century. Other, similar resurgences took place at roughly the same time, centered in France and Germany. The western traditions acknowledging the natural elements, the seasons, and the practitioner's relationship with the Earth, Gaia, or a primary Goddess have derived at least in part from these magical groups, as found in Neopagan religions and various forms of contemporary paganism.

Allegedly for gematric reasons Aleister Crowley preferred the spelling magick, defining it as "the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will." By this, he included "mundane" acts of change as well as ritual magic. In Magick in Theory and Practice, Chapter XIV, Crowley says:

What is a Magical Operation? It may be defined as any event in nature which is brought to pass by Will. We must not exclude potato-growing or banking from our definition. Let us take a very simple example of a Magical Act: that of a man blowing his nose.

Western magical traditions draw heavily from Hermeticism which influenced the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, as well as Wicca and some other Neopagan religions and contemporary forms of paganism.

Wicca is one of the more publicly known traditions within Neopaganism, a magical religion inspired by medieval witchcraft, with influences including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Crowley. Ruickbie (2004:193-209) shows that Wiccans and witches define magic in many different ways and use it for a number of different purposes. Despite that diversity of opinion, he concludes that the result upon the practitioner is generally perceived as a positive one.

Regardie argued that some magical practices rely upon widely accepted psychological principles and are intended to promote internal personal changes within the practitioner themselves.[99] Visualization techniques, for instance, widely used by magicians, are also used in somewhat different contexts in fields such as clinical psychology and sports training.[100]

Hypotheses of adherents

Adherents to magic believe that it may work by one or more of the following basic principles:[citation needed]

  • A mystical force or energy that is natural, but cannot be detected by science at present, and which may not be detectable at all. Common terms referring to such magical energy include mana, numen, chi or kundalini. These are sometimes regarded as fluctuations of an underlying primary substance (akasha, aether) that is present in all things and interconnects and binds all. Magical energy is thus also present in all things, though it can be especially concentrated in magical objects. Magical energies are typically seen as being especially responsive to the use of symbols, so that a person, event or object can be affected by manipulating an object that symbolically represents them or it (as in sigil magic, for instance). This corresponds to James Frazer's theory of sympathetic magic.

  • Intervention of spirits, similar to hypothetical natural forces, but with their own consciousness and intelligence. Believers in spirits will often describe a whole cosmos of beings of many different kinds, sometimes organized into a hierarchy.

  • Manipulation of the Elements, by using the will of the magician and symbols or objects which are representative of the element(s). Western practitioners typically use the Classical elements of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire.

  • Concentration or meditation. A certain amount of focusing or restricting the mind to some imagined object (or will), according to Aleister Crowley, produces mystical attainment or "an occurrence in the brain characterized essentially by the uniting of subject and object" (Book Four, Part 1: Mysticism). Magic, as defined previously, seeks to aid concentration by constantly recalling the attention to the chosen object (or Will), thereby producing said attainment. For example, if one wishes to concentrate on a god, one might memorize a system of correspondences (perhaps chosen arbitrarily, as this would not affect its usefulness for mystical purposes) and then make every object that one sees "correspond" to said god.

Aleister Crowley wrote that "the exaltation of the mind by means of magickal practices leads (as one may say, in spite of itself) to the same results as occur in straightforward Yoga." Crowley's magick thus becomes a form of mental, mystical, or spiritual discipline, designed to train the mind to achieve greater concentration. Crowley also made claims for the paranormal effects of magick, suggesting a connection with the first principle in this list. However, he defined any attempt to use this power for a purpose other than aiding mental or mystical attainment as "black magick".
  • The magical power of the subconscious mind. To believers who think that they need to convince their subconscious mind to make the changes that they desire, all spirits and energies are projections and symbols that make sense to the subconscious. A variant of this belief is that the subconscious is capable of contacting spirits, who in turn can work magic.

  • The Oneness of All. Based on the fundamental concepts of monism and nonduality, this philosophy holds that Magic is little more than the application of one's own inherent unity with the universe. Hinging upon the personal realization, or "illumination", that the self is limitless, one may live in unison with nature, seeking and preserving balance in all things.

Many more hypotheses exist. Practitioners will often mix these concepts, and sometimes even invent some themselves. In the contemporary current of chaos magic in particular, it is not unusual to believe that any concept of magic works.

Key principles of utilizing Magic are often said to be Concentration and Visualization. Many of those who purportedly cast spells attain a mental state called the "trance state" to enable the spell. The trance state is often described as an emptying of the mind, akin to that of meditation.

Magic and monotheism

Officially, Christianity and Islam characterize magic as forbidden witchcraft, and have often prosecuted alleged practitioners of it with varying degrees of severity. Other religions, such as Judaism and Zoroastrianism have rather more ambiguous positions towards it. Trends in monotheistic thought have dismissed all such manifestations as trickery and illusion, nothing more than dishonest gimmicks.

In Judaism

Further information: Kabbalah and Hermetic Qabalah

In Judaism the Torah prohibits Jews from being superstitious or engaging in astrology (Lev. 19, 26); from muttering incantations (Deut. 18, 11); from consulting an ov (mediums), yidoni (seers), or attempting to contact the dead (Deut. 18, 11); from going into a trance to foresee events, and from performing acts of magic (Deut. 18, 10). See 613 Mitzvot. The general theme of these commandments is a prohibition against polytheism, since the practice of sorcery connotes the alleged invocation of spirits or other unseen forces that are not God.

A different type of magic can be achieved using knowledge of the kabbalah. Because the kabbalah provides knowledge of the spiritual and conceptual underpinnings of physical existence, one who possesses kabbalistic knowledge is able to produce physical effects by directly addressing the spiritual basis of the affected physical object. This is called 'practical kabbalah' and is a type of White Magic.

The practice of practical kabbalah was banned by the Vilna Gaon due to the decreasing spiritual sensitivity of later generations.

In Christianity

Further information: Renaissance magic, Grimoire, Christian views on magic and Theurgy

Magia was viewed with suspicion by Christianity from the time of the Church fathers. However, it was never completely settled whether there may be permissible practices, e.g. involving relics or holy water as opposed to "blasphemous" necromancy (necromantia) involving the invocation of demons (goetia). The distinction became particularly pointed and controversial during the Early Modern witch-hunts, with some authors such as Johannes Hartlieb denouncing all magical practice as blasphemous, while others portrayed natural magic as not sinful.

The position taken by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, one of the foremost Renaissance magicians, is ambiguous. The character of Faustus, likely based on a historical 16th century magician or charlatan, became the prototypical popular tale of a learned magician who succumbs to a pact with the devil.

The current Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses divination and magic under the heading of the First Commandment.[101]

It is careful to allow for the possibility of divinely inspired prophecy, but it rejects "all forms of divination":

(2116) All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

The section on "practices of magic or sorcery" is less absolute, specifying "attempts to tame occult powers" in order to "have supernatural power over others". Such are denounced as "gravely contrary to the virtue of religion", notably avoiding a statement on whether such attempts can have any actual effect[citation needed] (that is, attempts to employ occult practices are identified as violating the First Commandment because they in themselves betray a lack of faith, and not because they may or may not result in the desired effect).

The Catechism expresses skepticism towards widespread practices of folk Catholicism without outlawing them explicitly:

(2117) [...] Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity.

Some argue that the recent popularity of the prosperity gospel constitutes a return to magical thinking within Christianity. Note also that Gnostic Christianity has a strong mystical current, but shies away from practical magic and focuses more on theurgy.

In Islam

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The second chapter of the Qur’an introduces an explanation for the introduction of magic into the world:

They followed what the evil ones gave out (falsely) against the power of Solomon: the blasphemers were, not Solomon, but the evil ones, teaching men magic, and such things as came down at Babylon to the angels Harut and Marut. But neither of these taught anyone (such things) without saying: "We are only for trial; so do not blaspheme." They learned from them the means to sow discord between man and wife. But they could not thus harm anyone except by Allah's permission. And they learned what harmed them, not what profited them. And they knew that the buyers of (magic) would have no share in the happiness of the Hereafter. And vile was the price for which they did sell their souls, if they but knew! (Q 2:102)

Although it presents a generally contemptuous attitude towards magic (Muhammad was accused by his detractors of being a magician),[102] the Qur'an distinguishes between apparent magic (miracles sanctioned by Allah) and real magic. The first is that used by Solomon, who being a prophet of Allah, is assumed to have used miraculous powers with Allah's blessing.[103] Muslims also believe that Allah made an army of Djinn obedient to him. The second form is the magic that was taught by the "evil ones", or al-shayatin. Al-shayatin has two meanings; the first is similar to the Christian Satan. The second meaning, which is the one used here, refers to a djinni of superior power.[104] The al-shayatin taught knowledge of evil and "pretended to force the laws of nature and the will of Allah"[105] According to this belief, those who follow this path turn themselves from Allah and cannot reach heaven.

The Arabic word translated in this passage as "magic" is sihr. The etymological meaning of sihr suggests that "it is the turning . . . of a thing from its true nature . . . or form . . . to something else which is unreal or a mere appearance "[106]

By the first millennium CE, sihr became a fully developed system in Islamic society. Within this system, all magicians "assert[ed] that magic is worked by the obedience of spirits to the magician."[107] The efficacy of this system comes from the belief that every Arabic letter, every word, verse, and chapter in the Qur'an, every month, day, time and name were created by Allah a priori, and that each has an angel and a djinn servant.[108] It is through the knowledge of the names of these servants that an actor is able to control the angel and djinn for his or her purposes.[109]

The Sunni and Shia sects of Islam typically forbid all use of magic. The Sufis within these two sects are much more ambiguous about its use as seen in the concept of "Barakah". If magic is understood in terms of Frazer's principle of contagion, then barakah is another term that can refer to magic. Barakah, variously defined as "blessing", or "divine power", is a quality one possesses rather than a category of activity. According to Muslim conception, the source of barakah is solely from Allah; it is Allah's direct blessing and intervention conferred upon special, pious Muslims.[110] Barakah has a heavily contagious quality in that one can transfer it by either inheritance or contact. Of all the humans who have ever lived, it is said that the Prophet Muhammad possessed the greatest amount of barakah and that he passed this to his male heirs through his daughter Fatima.[111] Barakah is not just limited to Muhammad's family line; any person who is considered holy may also possess it and transfer it to virtually anyone else. In Morocco, barakah transfer can be accomplished through various forms of physical contact such as hand shaking and kissing.[112] The contagious element of barakah is not limited to humans as it can be found in rocks, trees, water, and even in some animals, such as horses.[113]

Just how the actor maintained obedience depended upon the benevolence or malevolence of his practice. Malevolent magicians operated by enslaving the spirits through offerings and deeds displeasing to Allah. Benevolent magicians, in contrast, obeyed and appeased Allah so that Allah exercised His will upon the spirits.[114] Al-Buni provides the process by which this practice occurs:

First: the practitioner must be of utterly clean soul and garb. Second, when the proper angel is contacted, this angel will first get permission from God to go to the aid of the person who summoned him. Third: the practitioner "must not apply . . .[his power] except to that purpose [i.e. to achieve goals] which would please God."[115]

However, not all Islamic groups accept this explanation of benevolent magic. The Salafis particularly view this as shirk, denying the unity of Allah. Consequently, the Salafis renounce appellations to intermediaries such as saints, angels, and djinn, and renounce magic, fortune-telling, and divination.[116] This particular brand of magic has also been condemned as forbidden by a fatwa issued by Al-Azhar University.[117] Further, Egyptian folklorist Hasan El-Shamy, warns that scholars have often been uncritical in their application of the term sihr to both malevolent and benevolent forms of magic. He argues that in Egypt, sihr only applies to sorcery. A person who practices benevolent magic "is not called saahir or sahhaar (sorcerer, witch), but is normally referred to as shaikh (or shaikha for a female), a title which is normally used to refer to a clergyman or a community notable or elder, and is equal to the English title: 'Reverend.'"[118]

Varieties of magical practice

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The Magician, a Tarot card

The best-known type of magical practice is the spell, a ritualistic formula intended to bring about a specific effect. Spells are often spoken or written or physically constructed using a particular set of ingredients. The failure of a spell to work may be attributed to many causes,[119] such as a failure to follow the exact formula, to the general circumstances being unconducive, to a lack of magical ability, to a lack of willpower or to fraud.

Another well-known magical practice is divination, which seeks to reveal information about the past, present or future. Varieties of divination include: astrology, augury, cartomancy, chiromancy, dowsing, extispicy, fortune telling, geomancy, I Ching, omens, scrying, and tarot reading.

Necromancy is a practice which claims to involve the summoning of, and conversation with, spirits of the dead. This is sometimes done simply to commune with deceased loved ones; it can also be done to gain information from the spirits, as a type of divination; or to command the aid of those spirits in accomplishing some goal, as part of casting a spell.

Varieties of magic can also be categorized by the techniques involved in their operation. One common means of categorization distinguishes between contagious magic and sympathetic magic, one or both of which may be employed in any magical work. Contagious magic involves the use of physical ingredients which were once in contact with the person or a thing which the practitioner intends to influence. Sympathetic magic involves the use of images or physical objects which in some way resemble the person or thing that one hopes to influence; voodoo dolls are an example. This dichotomy was proposed by Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough.

Other common categories given to magic include High and Low Magic (the appeal to divine powers or spirits respectively, with goals lofty or personal, according to the type of magic). Another distinction is between "manifest" and "subtle" magic. Subtle magic typically refers to magic of legend, gradually and sometimes intangibly altering the world, whereas manifest magic is magic that immediately appears as a result.

Academic historian Richard Kieckhefer divides the category of spells into psychological magic, which seeks to influence other people's minds to do the magician's will, such as with a love spell,[120] or illusionary magic, which seeks to conjure the manifestation of various wonders. A spell that conjures up a banquet, or that confers invisibility on the magician, would be examples of illusionary magic. Magic that causes objective physical change, in the manner of a miracle, is not accommodated in Kieckhefer's categories.

Magical traditions

Another method of classifying magic is by "traditions", which in this context typically refer to complexes or "currents" of magical belief and practice associated with various cultural groups and lineages of transmission. Some of these traditions are highly specific and culturally circumscribed. Others are more eclectic and syncretistic. These traditions can compass both divination and spells.

When dealing with magic in terms of "traditions", it is a common misconception for outsiders to treat any religion in which clergy members make amulets and talismans for their congregants as a "tradition of magic", even though what is being named is actually an organized religion with clergy, laity, and an order of liturgical service. This is most notably the case when Voodoo, Palo, Santería, Taoism, Wicca, and other contemporary religions and folk religions are mischaracterized as forms of "magic", or even as "sorcery."

Examples of magical, folk-magical, and religio-magical traditions include:

See also

Anthropology portal

Occult portal


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  • Brown, Michael. Tsewa's Gift. Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 118

  • Malinowski, B. K. (1935) Coral Gardens and their Magic, Dover, New York, 235

  • Tambiah, S. J. (1968). "The Magical Power of Words". Man. Cambridge, UK. 3. 175-176

  • Tambiah, S. J. (1968). "The Magical Power of Words". Man. Cambridge, UK. 3. 176

  • Ogden, C. K. & Richards, I. A. (1923). The Meaning of Meaning. Discussed in Tambiah, S. J. (1968). "The Magical Power of Words". Man. Cambridge, UK. 3. 188

  • Tambiah, S. J. (1968). "The Magical Power of Words". Man. Cambridge, UK. 3. 189

  • Malinowski, B. K. (1935) Coral Gardens and their Magic, Dover, New York, 213

  • Tambiah, S. J. (1968). The Magical Power of Words. Man. Cambridge, UK. 3. 182

  • Tambiah, S. J. (1968). The Magical Power of Words. Man. Cambridge, UK. 3. 178

  • Malinowski, B. K. (1935) Coral Gardens and their Magic, Dover, New York, 228

  • Tambiah, S. J. (1968). The Magical Power of Words. Man. Cambridge, UK. 3. 179

  • Mauss, Marcel (1972) A General Theory of Magic (R. Brain, Trans.). New York: Norton Library. (Original work published 1903). ISBN 0-393-00779-0. p. 25

  • Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1976) Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande. Abridged Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Original Work Published 1937)

  • Glucklich, A. (1997). The End of Magic. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 87

  • Ginzburg, C. (1992) The Night Battles (J. & A. Tedeshci, Trans.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press

  • Connor, L., Asch, T., & Asch, P. (1983) "A Balinese trance seance ; Jero on Jero, a Balanese trance seance observed [videorecording]." Watertown, Massachusetts : Documentary Educational Resources

  • Mauss, Marcel (1972) A General Theory of Magic (R. Brain, Trans.). New York: Norton Library. (Original work published 1903). ISBN 0-393-00779-0. p. 41-44

  • Mauss, Marcel (1972) A General Theory of Magic (R. Brain, Trans.). New York: Norton Library. (Original work published 1903). ISBN 0-393-00779-0. p. 26

  • Glucklich, A. (1997). The End of Magic. Oxford: Oxford University Press

  • Mauss, Marcel (1972) A General Theory of Magic (R. Brain, Trans.). New York: Norton Library. (Original work published 1903). ISBN 0-393-00779-0. p. 33, 40

  • Crawford, J. R. (1967) Witchcraft and Sorcery in Rhodesia pp. 5, 8, 73; Appendix II.

  • Pócs (1999) pp. 10–11.

  • Many English and Scottish 'witches' were cunning folk whose fairy familiars were interpreted as demons (Wilby, Emma 2005 Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits p. 123; Macfarlane, A. 1970 Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England p. 127; Maxwell-Stuart, P. G. 2001 Witchcraft in Europe and the New World, 1400–1800 p. 27); many French devins-guerisseurs were accused of witchcraft (E. William Monter 1976 Witchcraft in France and Switzerland ch. 7); over half the accused witches in Hungary seem to have been healers (Pócs 1999 p. 12); persisting pagan religion and magic was one of the prime targets of witchcraft accusations in Scandinavia from the 1600s (Maxwell-Stuart 2001 pp. 78–80); in Russia most trials were aimed at eradicating popular magical practices amongst a barely Christianised population (Maxwell-Stuart 2001 83–4); and until the 18th century in Transylvania practitioners of traditional healing and fertility magic were the majority of accused witches (Maxwell-Stuart 2001 p. 85).

  • Macfarlane 1970 p. 130; also Appendix 2.

  • Winthrop, Robert H. Dictionary of concepts in cultural anthropology. New York: Greenwood P, 1991.

  • Dictionary of anthropology. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.

  • Feltham, Brian (2011). "Magic and Practical Agency", in Rational Magic. Oxford: Fisher Imprints. ISBN 1-84888-061-8.

  • Hendrix, Scott E. (2011). Preface to Rational Magic: Cultural and Historical Studies in Magic. Oxford: Fisher Imprints. ISBN 1-84888-061-8.

  • Freud (1950, 83), quoting Frazer (1911, 1, 420).

  • Freud (1950, 83).

  • Freud (1950, 84).

  • Mauss, Marcel (1972) A General Theory of Magic (R. Brain, Trans.). New York: Norton Library. (Original work published 1903). ISBN 0-393-00779-0

  • Mauss, Marcel (1972) A General Theory of Magic (R. Brain, Trans.). New York: Norton Library. (Original work published 1903). p. 92

  • Tambiah, S. J. (1990). Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 2

  • Tambiah, S. J. (1990). Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 8

  • Tambiah, S. J. (1990). Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 19

  • Tambiah, S. J. (1990). Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 28

  • Maliowski, Bronisław. Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays. USA: Anchor Books, 1954. (pg 17)

  • Maliowski, Bronisław. Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays. USA: Anchor Books, 1954. (pg 86)

  • Maliowski, Bronisław. Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays. USA: Anchor Books, 1954. (pg 90)

  • Horton, R. (1967) "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Africa 37(1-2), 50-71, 155-187. Rpt. as "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Rationality. Ed. Bryan R. Wilson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984

  • Horton, R. (1967) "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Africa 37(1-2), 50-71, 155-187. Rpt. as "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Rationality. Ed. Bryan R. Wilson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984. p. 132

  • Horton, R. (1967) "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Africa 37(1-2), 50-71, 155-187. Rpt. as "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Rationality. Ed. Bryan R. Wilson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984. p. 135

  • Horton, R. (1967) "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Africa 37(1-2), 50-71, 155-187. Rpt. as "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Rationality. Ed. Bryan R. Wilson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984. p. 140

  • Horton, R. (1967) "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Africa 37(1-2), 50-71, 155-187. Rpt. as "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Rationality. Ed. Bryan R. Wilson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984. p. 143

  • Horton, R. (1967) "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Africa 37(1-2), 50-71, 155-187. Rpt. as "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Rationality. Ed. Bryan R. Wilson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984. p. 144

  • Horton, R. (1967) "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Africa 37(1-2), 50-71, 155-187. Rpt. as "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Rationality. Ed. Bryan R. Wilson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984. p. 146

  • Horton, R. (1967) "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Africa 37(1-2), 50-71, 155-187. Rpt. as "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Rationality. Ed. Bryan R. Wilson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984. p. 147

  • Horton, R. (1967) "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Africa 37(1-2), 50-71, 155-187. Rpt. as "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Rationality. Ed. Bryan R. Wilson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984. p. 148

  • Horton, R. (1967) "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Africa 37(1-2), 50-71, 155-187. Rpt. as "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Rationality. Ed. Bryan R. Wilson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984. p. 153

  • Davies (2009:8)

  • Flint, Valerie I.J. (1990). The rise of magic in early medieval Europe (1st ed. ed.). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. p. 4,12,406. ISBN 0-691-03165-7.

  • Kieckhefer, Richard (June 1, 1994). "The Specific Rationality of Medieval Magic". The American Historical Review 99 (3): 813. doi:10.2307/2167771.

  • Lindberg, David C. (2007). The beginnings of western science : the European scientific tradition in philosophical, religious, and institutional context, prehistory to A.D. 1450 (2nd ed. ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 20. ISBN 0226482057.

  • Kieckhefer, Richard (June 1, 1994). "The Specific Rationality of Medieval Magic". The American Historical Review 99 (3): 813–818. doi:10.2307/2167771.

  • Hyde, George E. (1968). Lottinville, Savoie, ed. Life of George Bent: Written From His Letters. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 207, 213, 214, 221, 239, 240, 303.

  • Monnett, John H. (1992). The Battle of Beecher Island and the Indian War of 1867–1869. University Press of Colorado. pp. 46–48.

  • Isreal Regardie, The Middle Pillar

  • Journal of the American Medical Association "The psychology of chess". JAMA, October 20, 2004; 292: 1900

  • The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an. Translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Amana Publications. 2001. Ali supports this assumption in his commentary on this passage "Solomon dealt in no arts of evil" (Q 2:102, note 103)

  • Gibb, H.A.R. and J.H. Kramerst. 1965. Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam. Ithaca: Cornell. pp 523-524. The djinn are intelligent beings, or spirits, created by Allah from fire, as opposed to humans and angels who are created from clay and light (Q 15:26-27 ; 55:15).

  • Ali, Q 2:102, note 103.

  • Gibb, p 545.

  • Gibb, p 546.

  • This is also a subcategory of Muslim magic called simiya, often translated as natural magic. For a complete discussion of simiya, see ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: an Introduction to History. Franz Rosenthal, translator. 2nd edition, 1967. Vol. 3 pp 171-227.

  • El-Shamy, Hasan. Unpublished Manuscript. Folk Beliefs and Practices in Egypt. p. 28.

  • Westermarck, Edward Alexander. 1926. Ritual and Belief in Morocco. London: Macmillan. p. 35

  • Westermarck, p. 36. Though Westermarck did not elaborate on this statement, the emphasis on the male lineage through Fatima appears to be of Sufi or Shi’ia origin rather than Sunni.

  • Westermarck, pp. 42-43.

  • Westermarck, p. 97.

  • al-Nadim, Muhammad ibn Ishaq. The Fihrist of al-Nadim. Edited and translated by Bayard Dodge. New York: Columbia, 1970. pp. 725-726.

  • El-Shamy. Folk Beliefs and Practices in Egypt. p. 34.

  • Doumato, Eleanor Abdella. 2000 Getting God's Ear: Women, Islam, and Healing in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. New York: Columbia. p. 34.

  • El-Shamy. Personal communication

  • El-Shamy. Folk Beliefs and Practices in Egypt. p. 33.

  1. "Love Spells by Amaya". Retrieved 12 May 2013.


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Magic (illusion)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For other varieties of magic, see Magic (disambiguation).

"Illusionist" redirects here. For the artistic tradition, see Illusionism (art). For other uses, see The Illusionist (disambiguation).

Magician (illusion) redirects here.


The Conjurer, 1475-1480, by Hieronymus Bosch or his workshop. Notice how the man in the back row steals another man's purse while applying misdirection by looking at the sky. The artist even misdirects us from the thief by drawing us to the magician.

Performing arts

Magic (sometimes referred to as stage magic to distinguish it from paranormal or ritual magic) is a performing art that entertains audiences by staging tricks or creating illusions of seemingly impossible[1] or supernatural[2] feats using natural means. These feats are called magic tricks, effects or illusions. A professional who performs such illusions is called a stage magician or an illusionist. Some performers may also be referred to by names reflecting the type of magical effects they present, such as prestidigitators, conjurors, hypnotists, mentalists, or escapologists.

The first book of magic tricks appeared in 1584. During the 1600s many similar books were published that described magic tricks. Until the 18th century magic shows were a common source of entertainment at fairs. A founding figure of modern entertainment magic was Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, who had a magic theatre in Paris in 1845. John Henry Anderson was pioneering the same transition in London in the 1840s. Towards the end of the 1800s, large magic shows permanently staged at big theatre venues became the norm.[3] As a form of entertainment, magic easily moved from theatrical venues to television magic specials.

Opinions vary among magicians as to how categorize a given effect, but a number of categories have been developed. Magicians may pull a rabbit from an empty hat, make something seem to disappear, or transforms a red silk handkerchief into a white handkerchief. Magicians may also destroy something, like cutting a rope and then "restore" it, make something appear to move from one place to another, or escape from a restraining device. Other illusions include making something appear to defy gravity, making a solid object appears to pass through another object, or appearing to predict the choice of a spectator. Many magical routines use combinations of effects.

Traditionally, magicians refuse to reveal the methods behind their tricks to the audience. Membership in professional magicians' organizations often requires a commitment never to reveal the secrets of magic to non-magicians. The teaching of performance magic was once a secretive practice.[citation needed] Magic performances tend to fall into a few specialties or genres. Stage illusions use large-scale props and even large animals. Platform magic is performed for a medium to large audience. Close-up magic is performed with the audience close to the magician. Escapology involves escapes from confinement or restraints. Pickpocket magicians take audience members' wallets, belts, and ties. Mentalism creates the illusion that the magician can read minds. Comedy magic is the use of magic combined with stand-up comedy, an example being Penn & Teller. Some modern illusionists believe that it is unethical to give a performance that claims to be anything other than a clever and skillful deception. Others argue that they can claim that the effects are due to magic. These apparently irreconcilable differences of opinion have led to some conflicts among performers. Another issue is the use of deceptive practices for personal gain outside the venue of a magical performance. Examples include fraudulent mediums, con men and grifters who use deception for cheating at card games.



The term "magic" etymologically derives from the Greek word mageia (μαγεία). In ancient times, Greeks and Persians had been at war for centuries, and the Persian priests, called magosh in Persian, came to be known as magoi in Greek. Ritual acts of Persian priests came to be known as mageia, and then magika—which eventually came to mean any foreign, unorthodox, or illegitimate ritual practice.

Performances that modern observers would recognize as conjuring have been practiced throughout history.[citation needed] For many recorded centuries, magicians were associated with the devil and the occult. During the 19th and 20th centuries, many stage magicians even capitalized on this notion in their advertisements.[4] The same level of ingenuity that was used to produce famous ancient deceptions such as the Trojan Horse would also have been used for entertainment, or at least for cheating in money games. They were also used by the practitioners of various religions and cults from ancient times onwards to frighten uneducated people into obedience or turn them into adherents. However, the profession of the illusionist gained strength only in the 18th century, and has enjoyed several popular vogues since.

Magic tricks

An early copy of The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), the first known book of magic tricks, written by Reginald Scot

The first book of magic tricks appeared in 1584. Englishman Reginald Scot, published The Discoverie of Witchcraft, which was devoted to debunking the claims of magicians and showing how their 'magic tricks' were in reality accomplished. Among the tricks discussed were 'sleight-of-hand' manipulations with rope, paper and coins. At the time, fear and belief in witchcraft was widespread and the book tried to demonstrate that these fears were misplaced.[5] All obtainable copies were burned on the accession of James I in 1603 and those remaining are now rare. It began to reappear in print in 1651.

During the 17th century, many similar books were published that described in detail the methods of a number of magic tricks, including The Art of Conjuring (1614) and The Anatomy of Legerdemain: The Art of Juggling (c.1675).

Advertisement for Isaac Fawkes' show from 1724 in which he boasts of the success of his performances for the King and Prince George

Until the 18th century magic shows were a common source of entertainment at fairs, where itinerant performers would entertain the public with magic tricks, as well as the more traditional spectacles of sword swallowing, juggling and fire breathing. In the early 18th century, as belief in witchcraft was waning, the art became increasingly respectable and shows would be put on for rich private patrons. A notable figure in this transition was the English showman, Isaac Fawkes, who began to promote his act in advertisements from the 1720s - he even claimed to have performed for King George II. One of Fawkes' advertisements described his routine in some detail:

He takes an empty bag, lays it on the Table and turns it several times inside out, then commands 100 Eggs out of it and several showers of real Gold and silver, then the Bag beginning to swell several sorts of wild fowl run out of it upon the Table. He throws up a Pack of Cards, and causes them to be living birds flying about the room. He causes living Beasts, Birds, and other Creatures to appear upon the Table. He blows the spots of the Cards off and on, and changes them to any pictures.[6]

From 1756 to 1781, Jacob Philadelphia performed feats of magic, sometimes under the guise of scientific exhibitions, throughout Europe and in Russia.

Modern stage magic

Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, pioneer of modern magical entertainment

A founding figure of modern entertainment magic was Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, originally a clockmaker, who opened a magic theatre in Paris in 1845. He transformed his art from one performed at fairs to a performance that the public paid to see at the theatre. His speciality was constructing mechanical automata that appeared to move and act as if alive. Many of Robert-Houdin's mechanisms for illusion were pirated by his assistant and ended up in the performances of his rivals, John Henry Anderson and Alexander Herrmann.

John Henry Anderson was pioneering the same transition in London. In 1840 he opened the New Strand Theatre, where he performed as The Great Wizard of the North. His success came from advertising his shows and captivating his audience with expert showmanship. He became one of the earliest magicians to attain a high level of world renown. He opened a second theatre in Glasgow in 1845.

John Nevil Maskelyne, a famous magician and illusionist of the late 19th century.

Towards the end of the century, large magic shows permanently staged at big theatre venues became the norm.[3] The British performer J N Maskelyne and his partner Cooke established their own theatre, the Egyptian Hall, in London's Piccadilly, in 1873. The show incorporated stage illusions and reinvented traditional tricks with exotic (often Oriental) imagery. The potential of the stage was exploited for hidden mechanisms and assistants, and the control it offers over the audience's point of view. Maskelyne and Cooke invented many of the illusions still performed today - one of his best-known being levitation.[7]

The model for the look of a 'typical' magician—a man with wavy hair, a top hat, a goatee, and a tailcoat—was Alexander Herrmann (February 10, 1844 – December 17, 1896), also known as Herrmann the Great. Herrmann was a French magician and was part of the Herrmann family name that is the "first-family of magic."

The escapologist and magician Harry Houdini took his stage name from Robert-Houdin and developed a range of stage magic tricks, many of them based on what became known after his death as escapology. Houdini was genuinely skilled in techniques such as lockpicking and escaping straitjackets, but also made full use of the range of conjuring techniques, including fake equipment and collusion with individuals in the audience. Houdini's show business savvy was as great as his performance skill. There is a Houdini Museum dedicated to him in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The Magic Circle was formed in London in 1905 to promote and advance the art of stage magic.[8]

As a form of entertainment, magic easily moved from theatrical venues to television specials, which opened up new opportunities for deceptions, and brought stage magic to huge audiences. Famous magicians of the 20th century included Okito, David Devant, Harry Blackstone Sr., Harry Blackstone Jr., Howard Thurston, Theodore Annemann, Cardini, Joseph Dunninger, Dai Vernon, Fred Culpitt, Tommy Wonder, Siegfried & Roy, and Doug Henning. Popular 20th and 21st century magicians include David Copperfield, Lance Burton, James Randi, Penn and Teller, David Blaine, Criss Angel, Hans Klok, Derren Brown and Dynamo. Well known women would include Dell O'Dell and Dorothy Dietrich. Most TV magicians perform before a live audience, who provide the remote viewer with a reassurance that the illusions are not obtained with post-production visual effects.

Many of the principles of stage magic are old. There is an expression, "it's all done with smoke and mirrors", used to explain something baffling, but effects seldom use mirrors today, due to the amount of installation work and transport difficulties. For example, the famous Pepper's Ghost, a stage illusion first used in 19th-century London, required a specially built theatre. Modern performers have vanished objects as large as the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty, and a space shuttle, using other kinds of optical deceptions.

Categories of effects

Opinions vary among magicians as to how to categorize a given effect, and disagreement as to what categories actually exist. For instance, some magicians consider "penetrations" a separate category, while others consider penetrations a form of restoration or teleportation. Some magicians today, such as Guy Hollingworth[9] and Tom Stone[10] have begun to challenge the notion that all magic effects fit into a limited number of categories. Among magicians who believe in a limited number of categories (such as Dariel Fitzkee, Harlan Tarbell, S.H. Sharpe), there has been disagreement as to how many different types of effects there are. Some of these are listed below.

  • Production: The magician produces something from nothing—a rabbit from an empty hat, a fan of cards from thin air, a shower of coins from an empty bucket, a dove from a pan, or the magician himself or herself, appearing in a puff of smoke on an empty stage—all of these effects are productions.

  • Vanish: The magician makes something disappear—a coin, a cage of doves, milk from a newspaper, an assistant from a cabinet, or even the Statue of Liberty. A vanish, being the reverse of a production, may use a similar technique, in reverse.

  • Transformation: The magician transforms something from one state into another—a silk handkerchief changes color, a lady turns into a tiger, an indifferent card changes to the spectator's chosen card.

  • Transformation: Change of color

  • Restoration: The magician destroys an object, then restores it to its original state—a rope is cut, a newspaper is torn, a woman is cut in half, a borrowed watch is smashed to pieces—then they are all restored to their original state.

  • Transportation: The magician causes something to move from one place to another—a borrowed ring is found inside a ball of wool, a canary inside a light bulb, an assistant from a cabinet to the back of the theater, a coin from one hand to the other. When two objects exchange places, it is called a transposition: a simultaneous, double transportation. A transportation can be seen as a combination of a vanish and a production. When performed by a Mentalist might be called teleportation.

  • Escape: The magician (an assistant may participate, but the magician himself is by far the most common) is placed in a restraining device (i.e., handcuffs or a straitjacket) or a death trap, and escapes to safety. Examples include being put in a straitjacket and into an overflowing tank of water, and being tied up and placed in a car being sent through a car crusher.

  • Levitation: The magician defies gravity, either by making something float in the air, or with the aid of another object (suspension)—a silver ball floats around a cloth, an assistant floats in mid-air, another is suspended from a broom, a scarf dances in a sealed bottle, the magician hovers a few inches off the floor. There are many popular ways to create this illusion, including Asrah levitation, Balducci levitation, and King levitation. The flying illusion is often performed by David Copperfield and more recently by Peter Marvey. Harry Blackstone floated a light bulb over the heads of the public.

  • Penetration: The magician makes a solid object pass through another—a set of steel rings link and unlink, a candle penetrates an arm, swords pass through an assistant in a basket, a saltshaker penetrates the table-top, a man walks through a mirror. Sometimes referred to as "solid-through-solid."

  • Prediction: The magician predicts the choice of a spectator, or the outcome of an event under seemingly impossible circumstances—a newspaper headline is predicted, the total amount of loose change in the spectator's pocket, a picture drawn on a slate.

Many magical routines use combinations of effects. For example, in "cups and balls" a magician may use vanishes, productions, penetrations, teleportation and transformations as part of the one presentation.

The methodology behind magic is often referred to as a science (often a branch of physics) whilst the performance aspect is more of an art form.


See also: Intellectual rights to magic methods and Exposure (magic)

Traditionally, magicians refuse to reveal the methods behind their tricks to the audience.

  • Exposure is claimed to "kill" magic as an art form, but time has proven this to be untrue. There have been many TV shows, and YouTube channels dedicated to 'revealing' magic's secrets. However, there are often many ways to achieve a single illusion, so the 'secret' is merely an example of how it "could" work. Most often, the most efficient and most devious methods are never released publicly. It is argued that once the secret of a trick is revealed to a person, that one can no longer fully enjoy subsequent performances of that magic, as the amazement is missing. Although, in many cases, people have a greater appreciation for the magic art form with some understanding of the methods employed.

  • Many believe that keeping the secrets preserves the mystery of professional magicians. In all actuality, magicians are able to employ various methods of entertaining an audience, and the "secrets" are less important than people believe. Without studying the art of magic in depth, it is difficult to really understand how a secret of one trick might apply to others. This has been illustrated by Penn and Teller, as they will supposedly "reveal" a secret of magic, and then later in their show will use that same method without the audience realizing it.

Membership in professional magicians' organizations often requires a solemn commitment to the Magician's Oath never to reveal the secrets of magic to non-magicians. The Magician's Oath may vary, but typically takes the following or similar form:

"As a magician I promise never to reveal the secret of any illusion to a non-magician, unless that one swears to uphold the Magician's Oath in turn. I promise never to perform any illusion for any non-magician without first practicing the effect until I can perform it well enough to maintain the illusion of magic."

Once sworn to the Oath, one is considered a magician, and is expected to live up to this promise. Magicians who reveal secrets, either purposely or through insufficient practice, may find that other magicians are unwilling to teach them any more secrets. They are then no longer eligible to join IBM (International Brotherhood of Magicians) and are banned from magic society.

However, it is traditionally permissible to reveal secrets to individuals who are determined to learn magic and become magicians. It is typically a sequential process of increasingly valuable and lesser known secrets. The secrets of almost all magical effects are available to the public through numerous books and magazines devoted to magic, available from the specialized magic trade. Web sites offer videos, DVDs and instructional materials. In this sense, there are few classical illusions left unrevealed, but this does not appear to have diminished the appeal of performances. In addition, magic is a living art, and new illusions are devised with surprising regularity. Sometimes a 'new' illusion is built on an illusion that is old enough to have become unfamiliar.

Some magicians have taken the position that revealing the methods used in certain works of magic can enhance the appreciation of the audience for cleverness of magic. Penn and Teller frequently perform tricks using transparent props to reveal how they are done, for example, although they almost always include additional unexplained effects at the end that are made even more astonishing by the revealing props being used.

Often, what seems a revelation of a magical secret is merely another form of misdirection. For instance, a magician may explain to an audience member that the linking rings "have a hole in them" and hand the volunteer two unlinked rings, which the volunteer finds to have become linked as soon as he handles them. At this point the magician may shove his arm through the ring ('the hole in the ring'), proclaiming: "See? Once you know that every ring has a hole, it's easy!"

Learning magic

See also: List of magic publications

Dedication to magic can teach confidence and creativity, as well as the work ethic associated with regular practice and the responsibility that comes with devotion to an art.[11] The teaching of performance magic was once a secretive practice.[citation needed] Professional magicians were unwilling to share knowledge with anyone outside the profession[citation needed] to prevent the laity from learning their secrets. This often made it difficult for an interested apprentice to learn anything but the basics of magic. Some had strict rules against members discussing magic secrets with anyone but established magicians.

From the 1584 publication of Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft until the end of the 19th century, only a few books were available for magicians to learn the craft, whereas today mass-market books offer a myriad titles. Videos and DVDs are a newer medium of tuition, but many of the methods found in this format are readily found in previously published books. However, they can serve as a visual demonstration.

Persons interested in learning to perform magic can join magic clubs. Here magicians, both seasoned and novitiate, can work together and help one another for mutual improvement, to learn new techniques, to discuss all aspects of magic, to perform for each other—sharing advice, encouragement, and criticism. Before a magician can join one of these clubs, they usually have to audition. The purpose is to show to the membership they are a magician and not just someone off the street wanting to discover magical secrets.

The world's largest magic organization is the International Brotherhood of Magicians; it publishes a monthly journal, The Linking Ring. The oldest organization is the Society of American Magicians, of which Houdini was a member and president for several years. In London, England, there is The Magic Circle, which houses the largest magic library in Europe. Also PSYCRETS—The British Society of Mystery Entertainers[12]—caters specifically to mentalists, bizarrists, storytellers, readers, spiritualist performers, and other mystery entertainers. Davenport's Magic [13] in London's The Strand is the world's oldest family-run magic shop.[14] The Magic Castle in Hollywood, California, is home to the Academy of Magical Arts.

Types of magic performance

Magic performances tend to fall into a few specialties or genres.

A mentalist on stage in a mind-reading performance, 1900

Amateur magician performing "children's magic" for a birthday party audience

  • Stage illusions are performed for large audiences, typically within a theatre or auditorium. This type of magic is distinguished by large-scale props, the use of assistants and often exotic animals such as elephants and tigers. Famous stage illusionists, past and present, include Harry Blackstone, Sr., Howard Thurston, Chung Ling Soo, David Copperfield, Lance Burton, Siegfried & Roy, and Harry Blackstone, Jr.

  • Parlor magic is done for larger audiences than close-up magic (which is for a few people or even one person) and for smaller audiences than stage magic. In parlor magic, the performer is usually standing and on the same level as the audience, which may be seated on chairs or even on the floor. According to the Encyclopedia of Magic and Magicians by T.A. Waters, "The phrase [parlor magic] is often used as a pejorative to imply that an effect under discussion is not suitable for professional performance." Also, many magicians consider the term "parlor" old fashioned and limiting, since this type of magic is often done in rooms much larger than the traditional parlor, or even outdoors. A better term for this branch of magic may be "platform," "club" or "cabaret."

  • Platform magic (also known as cabaret magic or stand-up magic) is performed for a medium to large audience. Nightclub magic and comedy club magic are also examples of this form. The use of illusionettes (small tabletop illusions) is common. This genre includes the skilled manipulation of props such as billiard balls, card fans, doves, rabbits, silks, and rope. Examples of such magicians include Jeff McBride, Penn & Teller, David Abbott, Channing Pollock, Black Herman, and Fred Kaps.

  • Micromagic (also known as close-up magic or table magic) is performed with the audience close to the magician, sometimes even one-on-one. It usually makes use of everyday items as props, such as cards (see Card manipulation), coins (see Coin magic), and seemingly 'impromptu' effects. This may be called "table magic", particularly when performed as dinner entertainment. Ricky Jay, Mahdi Moudini and Lee Asher, following in the traditions of Dai Vernon, Slydini and Max Malini, are considered among the foremost practitioners of close-up magic.

  • Escapology is the branch of magic that deals with escapes from confinement or restraints. Harry Houdini is a well-known example of an escape artist or escapologist.

  • Pickpocket magicians use magic to misdirect the audience while removing wallets, belts, ties and other personal effects. It can be presented on a stage, in a cabaret setting, before small close-up groups, or even for one spectator. Well-known pickpockets of the past and present include James Freedman, David Avadon, Bob Arno and Apollo Robbins.

  • Mentalism creates the impression in the minds of the audience that the performer possesses special powers to read thoughts, predict events, control other minds, and similar feats. It can be presented on a stage, in a cabaret setting, before small close-up groups, or even for one spectator. Well-known mentalists of the past and present include Alexander, The Zancigs, Axel Hellstrom, Dunninger, Kreskin, Derren Brown, Rich Ferguson, Guy Bavli and Banachek.

  • Theatrical séances simulate spiritualistic or mediumistic phenomena for theatrical effect. This genre of stage magic has been misused at times by charlatans pretending to actually be in contact with spirits.

  • Children's magic is performed for an audience primarily composed of children. It is typically performed at birthday parties, preschools, elementary schools, Sunday schools or libraries. This type of magic is usually comedic in nature and involves audience interaction as well as volunteer assistants.

  • Online magic tricks were designed to function on a computer screen. The computer essentially replaces the magician. Some online magic tricks recreate traditional card tricks and require user participation, while others, like Plato's Cursed Triangle, are based on mathematical, geometrical and/or optical illusions. One such online magic trick, called Esmeralda's Crystal Ball,[15] became a viral phenomenon that fooled so many computer users into believing that their computer had supernatural powers, that Snopes dedicated a page to debunking the trick.[16]

  • Mathemagic is a genre of stage magic that combines magic and mathematics. It is commonly used by children's magicians and mentalists.

  • Corporate magic or trade show magic uses magic as a communication and sales tool, as opposed to just straightforward entertainment. Corporate magicians may come from a business background and typically present at meetings, conferences and product launches. They run workshops and can sometimes be found at trade shows, where their patter and illusions enhance an entertaining presentation of the products offered by their corporate sponsors. Pioneer performers in this arena include Eddie Tullock[17] and Guy Bavli.[18][19]

  • Gospel magic uses magic to catechize and evangelize. Gospel magic was first used by St. Don Bosco to interest children in 19th-century Turin, Italy to come back to school, to accept assistance and to attend church.

  • Street magic is a form of street performing or busking that employs a hybrid of stage magic, platform and close-up magic, usually performed 'in the round' or surrounded by the audience. Notable modern street magic performers include Jeff Sheridan and Gazzo. Since the first David Blaine TV special Street Magic aired in 1997, the term "street magic" has also come to describe a style of 'guerilla' performance in which magicians approach and perform for unsuspecting members of the public on the street. Unlike traditional street magic, this style is almost purely designed for TV and gains its impact from the wild reactions of the public. Magicians of this type include David Blaine and Cyril Takayama.

  • Bizarre magic uses mystical, horror, fantasy and other similar themes in performance. Bizarre magic is typically performed in a close-up venue, although some performers have effectively presented it in a stage setting. Charles Cameron has generally been credited as the "godfather of bizarre magic." Others such as Tony Andruzzi have contributed significantly to its development.

  • Shock magic is a genre of magic that shocks the audience. Sometimes referred to as "geek magic," it takes its roots from circus sideshows, in which 'freakish' performances were shown to audiences. Common shock magic or geek magic effects include eating razor blades, needle-through-arm, string through neck and pen-through-tongue.

  • Comedy Magic is the use of magic in which is combined with stand-up comedy. Famous comedy magicians include Ed Alonzo, Penn & Teller and Levent.

Misuse of magic

Some modern illusionists believe that it is unethical to give a performance that claims to be anything other than a clever and skillful deception. Most of these performers therefore eschew the term "magician" (which they view as making a claim to supernatural power) in favor of "illusionist" and similar descriptions; for example, the performer Jamy Ian Swiss makes these points by billing himself as an "honest liar."[20] Alternatively, many performers say that magical acts, as a form of theater, need no more of a disclaimer than any play or film; this viewpoint is reflected in the words of magician and mentalist Joseph Dunninger, "For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice."[21]

These apparently irreconcilable differences of opinion have led to some conflicts among performers. For example, more than thirty years after the hugely successful illusionist Uri Geller made his first appearances on television in the 1970s to exhibit his self-proclaimed psychic ability to bend spoons, his actions still provoke controversy among some magical performers, because he claimed he was not using conjuring techniques. On the other hand, because Geller bent—and continues to bend—spoons within a performance context, the Dunninger quote may be said to apply.

Less fraught with controversy, however, may be the use of deceptive practices by those who employ conjuring techniques for personal gain outside the venue of a magical performance.

Fraudulent mediums have long capitalized on the popular belief in paranormal phenomena to prey on the bereaved for financial gain. From the 1840s to the 1920s, during the greatest popularity of the Spiritualism religious movement as well as public interest in séances, a number of fraudulent mediums used conjuring methods to perform illusions such as table-knocking, slate-writing, and telekinetic effects, which they attributed to the actions of ghosts or other spirits. The great escapologist and illusionist Harry Houdini devoted much of his time to exposing such fraudulent operators.[22] Magician James Randi, magic duo Penn & Teller, and the mentalist Derren Brown have also devoted much time to investigating paranormal, occult, and supernatural claims.[23][24]

Fraudulent faith healers have also been shown to employ sleight of hand to give the appearance of removing chicken-giblet "tumors" from patients' abdomens.[25]

Con men and grifters too may use techniques of conjuring for fraudulent goals. Cheating at card games is an obvious example, and not a surprising one: one of the most respected textbooks of card techniques for magicians, The Expert at the Card Table by Erdnase, was primarily written as an instruction manual for card sharps. The card trick known as "Find the Lady" or "Three-card Monte" is an old favourite of street hustlers, who lure the victim into betting on what seems like a simple proposition: to identify, after a seemingly easy-to-track mixing sequence, which one of three face-down cards is the Queen. Another example is the shell game, in which a pea is hidden under one of three walnut shells, then shuffled around the table (or sidewalk) so slowly as to make the pea's position seemingly obvious. Although these are well known as frauds, people still lose money on them; a shell-game ring was broken up in Los Angeles as recently as December 2009.[26]

Researching magic

Because of the secretive nature of magic, research can sometimes be a challenge.[27] Many magic resources are privately held and most libraries only have small populist collections of magicana. However, organizations exist to band together independent collectors, writers, and researchers of magic history, including the Magic Collectors' Association,[28] which publishes a quarterly magazine and hosts an annual convention; and The Conjuring Arts Research Center,[29] which publishes a monthly newsletter and biannual magazine, and offers its members use of a searchable database of rare books and periodicals.

Performance magic is particularly notable as a key area of popular culture from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. Many performances and performers can be followed through newspapers[30] of the time.

Many books have been written about magic tricks; so many are written every year that at least one magic author[31] has suggested that more books are written about magic than any other performing art. Although the bulk of these books are not seen on the shelves of libraries or public bookstores, the serious student can find many titles through specialized stores catering to the needs of magical performers.

Several notable public research collections on magic are the WG Alma Conjuring Collection[32] at the State Library of Victoria; the R. B. Robbins Collection of Stage Magic and Conjuring[33] at the State Library of NSW; the H. Adrian Smith Collection of Conjuring and Magicana[34] at Brown University; and the Carl W. Jones Magic Collection, 1870s–1948[35] at Princeton University.

See also

Arts portal


  • Henning Nelms. Magic and Showmanship: A Handbook for Conjurers, page 1 (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc, 2000).

  • Jim Steinmeyer. "A New Kind of Magic," in Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear (New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003).

  • Romano, Chuck (January 1995). "THE ART OF DECEPTION or The Magical Affinity Between Conjuring and Art". The Linking Ring 75 (1): 67–70.

  • Christopher, Milbourne (1991) [1962]. Magic: A Picture History. New York: Courier Dover Publications. p. 16. ISBN 0-486-26373-8.

  • Dawes, Edwin (1979). "The Great Illusionists". Chartwell Books Inc. p. 161.

  • Hollingworth, Guy. "Waiting For Inspiration." Genii Magazine. January 2008-December 2008.

  • Stone, Tom. "Lodestones." Genii Magazine. February 2009 -

  • Hass, Larry and Burger, Eugene (November 2000). "The Theory and Art of Magic". The Linking Ring (The International Brotherhood of Magicians).

  • S.J.Drury []. "". Retrieved 2012-03-17.

  • [1] Official website

  • Bill Herz with Paul Harris. Secrets of the Astonishing Executive(New York, NY: Avon Books, 1991).

  • Harry Houdini. A Magician Among the Spirits (New York: Harper and Bros., 1924)

  • Robert T. Carroll (2009-02-23). "Psychic 'surgery'". The Skeptic's Dictionary. Retrieved 2010-08-19.

  • Andrew Blankenstein. "8 Arrested in Downtown Shell-Game Operation," Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2009.

  • Bart King, The Pocket Guide to Magic, Gibbs Smith, 2009

  1. "Carl W. Jones Magic Collection, 1870s-1948: Finding Aid". Retrieved 2012-03-17.

  • Hawk, Mike. The Illusionist . 1st Ed. 01. Tiverton, ON: IBM, 1999. 234-238. Print. (Hawk 234-238)

Further reading

  • Daniel, Noel, (ed); Mike Caveney and Jim Steinmeyer (eds) (2009). Magic. 1400-1950s. Los Angeles: Taschen. ISBN 978-3-8365-0977-0.

  • Dunninger, Joseph. The Complete Encyclopedia of Magic.

  • Nadis, Fred, ed. Wonder shows: performing science, magic, and religion in America Rutgers University Press, 2006) online edition

  • Price, David (1985). Magic: A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre. Cornwall Books.

  • Randi, James (1992). Conjuring: A Definitive History. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-08634-2.

  • Stebbins, Robert A. (1993). Career, Culture and Social Psychology in a Variety Art: The Magician. Malabar, FL: Krieger.

  • Piddington's Secrets. We know how they did it! by Martin T Hart. Manipulatist Books Global. 2014

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Magic (illusion).


Magic and illusion


Stage magicians and illusionists

Magic in the Greco-Roman world

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The study of magic in the Greco-Roman world is a branch of the disciplines of classics, ancient history and religious studies. In the ancient post-hellenistic world of the Greeks and Romans (the Greco-Roman world), the public and private rituals associated with religion are accepted by historians and archaeologists to have been a part of everyday life. Examples of this phenomenon are found in the various state and cult Temples, Jewish Synagogues and in the early Christian cathedrals and churches. These were important hubs for the ancient peoples of the Greco-Roman world that were representative of a connection between the heavenly realms (the divine) and the earthly planes (the dwelling place of humanity). This context of magic has become an academic study especially in the last twenty years.[1] Authors William Swatos and Peter Kivisto define Magic as[2]

... any attempt to control the environment or the self by means that are either untested or untestable, such as charms or spells.
William H. Swatos & Peter Kivisto ,  Encyclopedia of Religion and Society



The principal defining factor of magic in the classical world is that it was held in low esteem and condemned by speakers and writers.[3] According to Robert Parker, "magic differs from religion as weeds differ from flowers, merely by negative social evaluation"; magic was often seen as consisting of practices that range from silly superstition to the wicked and dangerous.[4][5] However, magic seems to have borrowed from religion, adopting religious ceremonies and divine names, and the two are sometimes difficult to clearly distinguish.[6] Magic is often differentiated from religion in that it is manipulative rather than supplicatory of the deities[citation needed]; this is not a hard and fast rule, though, and with many ritual acts it is difficult to tell whether they are coercive or supplicatory. Also, some mainstream religious rites openly set out to constrain the gods.[7] Other rough criteria sometimes used to distinguish magic from religion include: that it is aimed at selfish or immoral ends; and that it is conducted in secrecy, often for a paying client[citation needed]. Religious rites, on the other hand, are more often aimed at lofty goals such as salvation or rebirth, and are conducted in the open for the benefit of the community or a group of followers.[8]

Alongside the more common manifestations of state religion, ancient peoples sought individual contact and assistance, along with influence, with the heavenly realms through other channels. Religious ritual had the intended purpose of giving a god their just due honor, or asking for divine intervention and favor, while magic is seen as practiced by those who seek only power, and often undertaken based on a false scientific basis.[9][10] Ultimately, the practice of magic includes rites that do not play a part in worship, and are ultimately irreligious.[11] Associations with this term tend to be an evolving process in ancient literature, but generally speaking ancient magic reflects aspects of broader religious traditions in the Mediterranean world, that is, a belief in magic reflects a belief in deities, divination, and words of power[citation needed]. The concept of magic however came to represent a more coherent and self-reflective tradition exemplified by magicians seeking to fuse varying non-traditional elements of Greco-Roman religious practice into something specifically called magic.[citation needed] This fusing of practices reached its peak in the world of the Roman Empire, in the 3rd to 5th centuries CE[citation needed]. This article therefore covers the development of this tradition and an evolving definition associated with the term "magic" in the texts left to us by practitioners and authors of the ancient Greco-Roman world.[original research?]

Via Latin magicus, the word "magic" derives from Greek magikos, with "magic" being the art and craft of the magos, the Greek word for followers of "Zoroaster" (i.e. either Zoroaster or Pseudo-Zoroaster). The relationship with "magic" derives from the Hellenistic identification of (Pseudo-)Zoroaster as the "inventor" of both astrology and magic. This was in turn influenced by (among other factors) the Greek penchant for seeking hidden meanings in words; the name "Zoroaster" was presumed to have something to do with the stars (-astr), while magos was perceived to have to do with goēs, the old Greek word for "magic" (in the modern sense). However, in the main, (Pseudo-)Zoroaster seems to have been almost exclusively identified with astrology, and magic then remained the domain of other (real or putative) "magians" such as the synthetic "Ostanes".

Because magos/magikos were influenced by the association with the old Greek word for "magic", Greek magos/magikos accordingly held the same meaning that "magic" and "magician" do today. Although a few Greek writers – e.g. Herodotus, Xenophon, Plutarch – did use magos in connection with their descriptions of (Zoroastrian) religious beliefs or practices, the majority seem to have understood it in the sense of "magician". Accordingly, the more skeptical writers then also identified the "magicians" – i.e. the magians – as charlatans or frauds. In Plato's Symposium (202e), the Athenian identified them as maleficent, allowing however a measure of efficacy as a function of the god Eros.[12] Pliny paints them in a particularly bad light.[13]

Thorndike comments: "Greek science at its best was not untainted by magic".[14]

Magic in Homeric times

This section possibly contains original research. Please improve it by verifying the claims made and adding inline citations. Statements consisting only of original research should be removed. (September 2008)

In Greek literature, the earliest magical operation that supports a definition of magic as a practice aimed at trying to locate and control the secret forces (the sympathies and antipathies that make up these forces) of the world (physis) is found in Book X of The Odyssey (a text stretching back to the early 8th century BCE).[15] Book X describes the encounter of the central hero Odysseus with the Titan Circe, "She who is sister to the wizard Aeetes, both being children of the the same mother, Perse the daughter of the Ocean,"[16] on the island of Aeaea. In the story Circe's magic consists in the use of a wand[17] against Odysseus and his men while Odysseus's magic consists of the use of a secret herb called moly[18] (revealed to him by the god Hermes, "god of the golden wand")[19] to defend himself from her attack.[20] In the story three requisites crucial to the idiom of "magic" in later literature are found:

  1. The use of a mysterious tool endowed with special powers (the wand).

  2. The use of a rare magical herb.[21]

  3. A divine figure that reveals the secret of the magical act (Hermes).

These are the three most common elements that characterize magic as a system in the later Hellenistic and greco-Roman periods of history.

Another important definitional element to magic is also found in the story. Circe is presented as being in the form of a beautiful woman (a temptress) when Odysseus encounters her on an island. In this encounter Circe uses her wand to change Odysseus’ companions into swine. This may suggest that magic was associated (in this time) with practices that went against the natural order, or against wise and good forces (Circe is called a witch by a companion of Odysseus).[22] In this mode it is worth noting that Circe is representative of a power (the Titans) that had been conquered by the younger Olympian gods such as Zeus, Poseidon and Hades.[23]

"The Sorceress" by John William Waterhouse

Magic in Classical Greece

The 6th century BCE gives rise to scattered references of magoi at work in Greece. Many of these references representing a more positive conceptualisation of magic. Among the most famous of these Greek magoi, between Homer and the Hellenistic period, are the figures of Orpheus, Pythagoras, and Empedocles.


Orpheus is a mythical figure, said to have lived in Thrace "a generation before Homer" (though he is in fact depicted on 5th-century ceramics in Greek costume).[24][need quotation to verify] Orphism, or the Orphic Mysteries, seems also to have been central to the personages of Pythagoras and Empedocles who lived in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. Pythagoras for example is said to have described Orpheus, as, "the...father of melodious songs."[25] Since Aeschylus (the Greek Playwright) later describes him as he who "haled all things by the rapture of his voice,"[26] this suggests belief in the efficacy of song and voice in magic. Orpheus is certainly associated with a great many deeds: the most famous perhaps being his descent to the underworld to bring back his wife, Eurydice.[27] Orpheus’ deeds are not usually condemned or spoken of negatively. This suggests that some forms of magic were more acceptable. Indeed the term applied to Orpheus to separate him, presumably, from magicians of ill repute is theios aner or ‘divine man’.[28]


Magical powers were also attributed to the famous mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, as recorded in the days of Aristotle.[29] The traditions concerning Pythagoras are somewhat complicated because the number of Vitae that do survive are often contradictory in their interpretation of the figure of Pythagoras.[30]

Some of the magical acts attributed to him include:

  1. Being seen at the same hour in two cities.

  2. A white eagle permitting him to stroke it.

  3. A river greeting him with the words "Hail, Pythagoras!"

  4. Predicting that a dead man would be found on a ship entering a harbor.

  5. Predicting the appearance of a white bear and declaring it was dead before the messenger reached him bearing the news.

  6. Biting a poisonous snake to death (or in some versions driving a snake out from a village).[31] These stories also hint at Pythagoras being one of these "divine man" figures, (theios aner), his ability to control animals and to transcend space and time showing he has been touched by the gods.


Empedocles too has ascribed to him marvelous powers associated with later magicians: that is, he is able to heal the sick, rejuvenate the old, influence the weather and summon the dead.[32] E.R. Dodds in his 1951 book, The Greeks and the Irrational, argued that Empedocles was a combination of poet, magus, teacher, and scientist.[33] Dodds argued that since much of the acquired knowledge of individuals like Pythagoras or Empedocles was somewhat mysterious even to those with a rudimentary education, it might be associated with magic or at least with the learning of a Magus.[34][not in citation given]

It is important to note that after Empedocles, the scale of magical gifts in exceptional individuals shrinks in the literature, becoming specialized. Individuals might have the gift of healing, or the gift of prophecy, but are not usually credited with a wide range of supernatural powers as are magoi like Orpheus, Pythagoras and Empedocles. Plato reflects such an attitude in his Laws (933a-e) where he takes healers, prophets and sorcerers for granted. He acknowledges that these practitioners existed in Athens (and thus presumably in other Greek cities), and they had to be reckoned with and controlled by laws; but one should not be afraid of them, their powers are real, but they themselves represent a rather low order of humanity. An early Christian analogy is found in the 1st century CE writings of the Apostle Paul. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians conceptualizes the idea of a limitation of spiritual gifts.[35][original research?]

Pythagoras of Samos.

Magic in the Hellenistic period

The Hellenistic period (roughly the last three centuries BCE) is characterized by an avid interest in magic, though this may simply be because from this period a greater abundance of texts, both literary and some from actual practitioners, in Greek and in Latin remains. In fact many of the magical papyri that are extant were written in the 1st centuries of the Current Era, but their concepts, formulas and rituals reflect the earlier Hellenistic period, that is, a time when the systematization of magic in the Greco-Roman world seems to have taken place—particularly in the ‘melting pot’ of varying cultures that was Egypt under the Ptolemies and under Rome.[original research?]

The ascendancy of orthodox Christianity by the 5th century CE had much to do with this. This is reflected by the book of Acts where the Apostle Paul convinces many Ephesians to bring out their magical books and burn them.[36] The language of the magical papyri reflects various levels of literary skill, but generally they are standard Greek, and in fact they may well be closer to the spoken language of the time than to poetry or artistic prose left to us in literary texts.[37] Many terms are borrowed, in the papyri, it would seem, from the mystery cults; thus magical formulas are sometimes called teletai (literally, "celebration of mysteries"), or the magician himself is called mystagogos (the priest who leads the candidates for initiation).[38] Much Jewish lore and some of the names for God also appear in the magical papyri. Jao[disambiguation needed] for Yahweh, Sabaoth, and Adonai appear quite frequently for example.[39] As magicians are concerned with secrets it must have seemed to many outsiders of Judaism that Yahweh was a secret deity, for after all no images were produced of the Jewish God and God's real name was not pronounced, as the basis of speculation on magic.[40][not in citation given]

The texts of the Greek magical papyri are often written as we might write a recipe: "Take the eyes of a bat..." for example. So in other words the magic requires certain ingredients, much as Odysseus required the herb Moly to defeat the magic of Circe. But of course it is not just as simple as knowing how to put a recipe together. Appropriate gestures, at certain points in the magical ritual, are required to accompany the ingredients, different gestures it would seem produce various effects. A magical ritual done in the right way can guarantee the revealing of dreams and of course the rather useful talent of interpreting them correctly. In other cases certain spells allow one to send out a daemon or daemons to harm one's enemies or even to break up someone's marriage. There seems to be a self-defining negativity to some of the magical rituals being expressed in the papyri. So, for example, love magic can turn into hate magic if the victim does not respond to the love magic.[original research?]

This self-defined negative aspect to magic (as opposed to other groups defining your practices as negative even if you don’t) is found in various ‘curse tablets,’ (tabellae defixionum) left to us from the Greco-Roman world.[41] The term defixio is derived from the Latin verb defigere, which means literally "to pin down," but which was also associated with the idea of delivering someone to the powers of the underworld.[41] Of course, it was also possible to curse an enemy through a spoken word, either in his presence or behind his back. But due to numbers of curse tablets that have been found it would seem that this type of magic was considered more effective. The process involved writing the victim's name on a thin sheet of lead along with varying magical formulas or symbols, then burying the tablet in or near a tomb, a place of execution, or a battlefield, to give spirits of the dead power over the victim. Sometimes the curse tablets were even transfixed with various items – such as nails, which were believed to add magical potency.[41]

Of course for most magic acts or rituals there existed magics to counter the effects. Amulets were one of the most common protections (or counter-magics) used in the Greco-Roman world as protection against such fearful things as curses and the evil eye; which were seen as very real by most of its inhabitants.[42] While amulets were often made of cheap materials, precious stones were believed to have special efficacy. Many thousands of carved gems were found that clearly had a magical rather than an ornamental function.[43] Amulets were a very widespread type of magic, because of the fear of other types of magic such as curses being used against oneself. Thus amulets were actually often a mixture of various formulas from Babylonian, Egyptian, and Greek elements that were probably worn by those of most affiliations so as to protect against other forms of magic.[44] It is interesting to note that amulets are actually often abbreviated forms of the formulas found in the extant magical papyri.[44]

Magical tools were thus very common in magical rituals. Tools were probably just as important as the spells and incantations that were repeated for each magical ritual. A magician's kit, probably dating from the 3rd century CE, was discovered in the remains of the ancient city of Pergamon in Asia Minor and gives direct evidence of this.[45] The find consisted of a bronze table and base covered with symbols, a dish (also decorated with symbols), a large bronze nail with letters inscribed on its flat sides, two bronze rings, and three black polished stones inscribed with the names of supernatural powers.[46] What emerges then, from this evidence, is the conclusion that a type of permanence and universality of magic had developed in the Greco-Roman world by the Hellenistic period if not earlier. The scholarly consensus strongly suggests that although many testimonies about magic are relatively late, the practices they reveal are almost certainly much older. However the level of credence or efficacy given to magical practices in the early Greek and Roman worlds by comparison to the late Hellenistic period is not well known.

High and low magic

Magical operations largely fall into two categories: theurgical and goetic. The word theurgia in some contexts appears simply to try and glorify the kind of magic that is being practiced – usually a respectable priest-like figure is associated with the ritual.[47] Of this, scholar E.R. Dodds claims:[48]

Proclus grandiloquently defines theurgy as, 'a power higher than all human wisdom, embracing the blessings of divination, the purifying powers of initiation, and in a word all operations of divine possession' (Theol. Plat. p. 63). It may be described more simply as magic applied to a religious purpose and resting on a supposed revelation of a religious character. Whereas vulgar magic used names and formula of religious origin to profane ends, theurgy used the procedures of vulgar magic primarily to a religious end ...
E. R. Dodds ,  The Greek and the Irrational

In a typical theurgical rite, contact with divinity occurs either through the soul of the theurgist or medium leaving the body and ascending to heaven, where the divinity is perceived, or through the descent of the divinity to earth to appear to the theurgist in a vision or a dream. In the latter case, the divinity is drawn down by appropriate "symbols" or magical formulae.[49] According to the Greek philosopher Plotinus (205–270 CE) theurgy attempts to bring all things in the universe into sympathy, and man into connection with all things via the forces that flow through them.[50] Theurgia connoted an exalted form of magic, and philosophers interested in magic adopted this term to distinguish themselves from the magoi or goetes — lower-class practitioners. Goetia was a derogatory term connoting low, specious or fraudulent mageia.[51][52][53] Interestingly, goetia is similar in its ambiguity to charm: it means both magic and power to (sexually) attract.

Magic in the Roman era

Much of the extant Roman literature dealing with magic are retellings of Greek myths. Virgils's (70–19 BCE)[54] Book IV of the Aeneid for example describes a magical ceremony that the hero of the epic, Aeneas, who has landed on the coast of North Africa after fleeing from Troy, partakes in.[55] Here Aeneas meets Queen Dido, who has just begun to build the city of Carthage. Dido falls in love with Aeneas, and wishes him to stay as her prince consort. One is reminded of the Circe episode in the Odyssey and of Jason and Medea in Apollonius' Argonautica. In these epics also, a traveling hero meets a beautiful female who is potentially dangerous, although kind and hospitable as long as her love for the hero lasts. Thus the clash is set when Fate decrees that Aeneas leave Dido to found a city of his own (in Italy). Perhaps inevitably Dido's love turns to hate. In her hate she seeks to use a complex magical ritual to bring her former lover back to her. She builds a gigantic pyre in the main courtyard of her palace and prepares an elaborate sacrifice to the powers of the underworld. However Dido soon comes to realize that the love magic is not powerful enough to bring Aeneas back to her, so she kills herself in her despair, which in fact adds to the power and thus backlash to her curse.[56] Dido thus had sealed and extended her curse through her suicide. Aeneas was protected by his gods, but because of Dido's use of magic her curse lingered on leading, according to Virgil, to Rome's near crushing defeat by Carthage many centuries later.[57] This seems to demonstrate quite clearly that the Romans shared the Greek's view of magic as being dangerous and untrustworthy.

The Romans in fact went further than the Greeks in the condemnation and the fearfulness that they generate around their concept of magic. Some vivid examples of this are found in the writings of Seneca, the philosopher and playwright (c. 5 BCE – 65CE), and his nephew, Lucan (39–65 CE). Seneca selects some of the most gruesome Greek myths for dramatic treatment and he greatly adds to the negative connotations already applied to the theme of magic, necromancy and the like – where it is given by the mythical tradition (such as Medea) and sometimes even where there is little negativity indicated towards magic (Hercules on Mount Oeta for example).[58] From the dialogue in this incident, that is, between Deineira (the wife of Hercules) and her nurse we learn that it may well have been quite common for jealous wives to consult a witch; as it turns out, the nurse, very conveniently, is a witch herself.[59] There is a suggestion in this passage that a great hero such as Hercules should not be able to be influenced by magical means, but in the end he is overcome by the deadly concoction that the evil magic user (the nurse) passes on to Hercules, through deceiving Deianira into the belief that she is giving Hercules a love charm.

Personages of the Roman Empire

There are several notable historical personages of the 1st century CE who have many of the literary characteristics earlier associated with the Greek "divine men" (Orpheus, Pythagoras and Empedocles). Of particular note are Jesus the Christ, Simon Magus and Apollonius of Tyana.[60] From an outsider's point of view Jesus was a typical miracle-worker. He exorcised daemons, healed the sick, made prophecies and raised the dead. As Christianity grew and became seen as a threat to established traditions of religion in the Greco-Roman world (particularly to the Roman Empire with its policy of emperor worship) Jesus (and by inference his followers) were accused of being magic users.[61] Certainly Christian texts such as the Gospels told a life story full of features common to divinely touched figures: Jesus’ divine origin,[62] his miraculous birth,[63] and his facing of a powerful daemon (Satan)[64] being but a few examples.[65] The gospel of Matthew claims that Jesus was taken to Egypt as an infant, this was actually used by hostile sources to explain his knowledge of magic; according to one rabbinical story, he came back tattooed with spells.[66] It is also argued in rabbinical tradition that Jesus was mad, which was often associated with people of great power (dynamis).[66] Scholars such as Morton Smith have even tried to argue that Jesus was a magician. Morton Smith, in his book, Jesus the Magician, points out that the Gospels speak of the "descent of the spirit," the pagans of "possession by a daemon,". According to Morton Smith both are explanations for very similar phenomena.[66] If so this shows the convenience that using the term "magic" had in the Roman Empire – in delineating between what "they do and what you do". However Barry Crawford), currently Co-Chair of the Society of Biblical Literature's Consultation on Redescribing Christian Origins, in his 1979 review of the book states that "Smith exhibits an intricate knowledge of the magical papyri, but his ignorance of current Gospel research is abysmal", concluding that the work has traits of a conspiracy theory. [67]

Simon is the name of a magus mentioned in the canonical book of Acts 8:9ff, in apocryphal texts and elsewhere.[68] In the Book of Acts Simon the Magus is presented as being deeply impressed by the apostle Peter's cures and exorcisms and by the gift of the Spirit that came from the apostles’ laying on of hands; therefore, he "believed and was baptized". But Simon asks the apostles to sell him their special gift so that he can practice it too. This seems to represent the attitude of a professional magician. In other words, for Simon, the power of this new movement is a kind of magic that can be purchased – perhaps a common practice for magicians in parts of the Greco-Roman world. The Apostles response to Simon was emphatic in its rejection. The early church drew a strong line of demarcation between what it practiced and the practices of magic users.[69] As the church continued to develop this demarcation Simon comes under even greater scrutiny in later Christian texts. The prominent Christian author Justin Martyr for example, claims that Simon was a magus of Samaria, and that his followers committed the blasphemy of worshiping Simon as God.[70] The veracity of this is not certain, but proves the desire of the early Christians to escape an association with magic.

The third magus of interest in the period of the Roman Empire is Apollonius of Tyana (c. 40 AD-c. 120 AD).[71] Between 217 and 238 Flavius Philostratus wrote his Life of Apollonius of Tyana, a lengthy, but unreliable novelistic source.[72] Philostratus was a protégé of the empress Julia Domna, mother of the emperor Caracalla. According to him, she owned the memoirs of one Damis, an alleged disciple of Apollonius, and gave these to Philostratus as the raw material for a literary treatment. Some scholars believe the memoirs of Damis are an invention of Philostratus, others think it was a real book forged by someone else and used by Philostratus. The latter possibility is more likely. In any case it is a literary fake.[73] From Philostratus’ biography Apollonius emerges as an ascetic traveling teacher. He is usually labeled a new Pythagoras, and at the very least he does represent the same combination of philosopher and magus that Pythagoras was. According to Philostratus Apollonius traveled far and wide, as far as India, teaching ideas reasonably consistent with traditional Pythagorean doctrine; but in fact, it is most likely that he never left the Greek East of the Roman Empire.[74] In Late Antiquity talismans allegedly made by Apollonius appeared in several Greek cities of the Eastern Roman Empire, as if they were sent from heaven. They were magical figures and columns erected in public places, meant to protect the cities from plagues and other afflictions.[75]

Jewish tradition

Jewish tradition too, has attempted to define certain practices as "magic". Some Talmudic teachers (and many Greeks and Romans) considered Jesus a magician, and magical books such as the Testament of Solomon and the Eighth Book of Moses were ascribed to Solomon and Moses in antiquity.[76] The Wisdom of Solomon, a book considered apocryphal by many contemporary Jews and Christians (probably composed in the 1st century BCE) claims that

God... gave me true knowledge of things, as they are: an understanding of the structure of the world and the way in which elements work, the beginning and the end of eras and what lies in-between... the cycles of the years and the constellations... the thoughts of men... the power of spirits... the virtue of roots... I learned it all, secret or manifest.[77][78]

Thus Solomon was seen as the greatest scientist, but also the greatest occultist of his time, learned in astrology, plant magic, daemonology, divination, and ta physika (science).[79] These are the central aims of magic as an independent tradition – knowledge and power and control of the mysteries of the cosmos. Such aims can be viewed negatively or positively by ancient authors. The Jewish historian Josephus for example, writes that: "God gave him [Solomon] knowledge of the art that is used against daemons, in order to heal and benefit men".[80] Elsewhere however, "...there was an Egyptian false prophet [a magician] that did the Jews more mischief...for he was a cheat..."[81] The idea of magic can thus be an idiom loosely defined in ancient thinking. But whether magic is viewed negatively or positively the substance of it as a practice can be drawn out. That is, that magic was a practice aimed at trying to locate and control the secret forces of the cosmos, and the sympathies and antipathies that were seen to make up these forces.[citation needed]

Authors of the Roman Empire

The Natural History of Pliny the Elder (CE 23/24-79)[82] is a voluminous survey of knowledge of the late Hellenistic era, based according to Pliny on a hundred or so earlier authorities. This rather extensive work deals with an amazing variety of issues cosmology, geography, anthropology, zoology, botany, pharmacology, mineralogy, metallurgy and many others. It is interesting to note that Pliny was convinced of the powers of certain herbs or roots as revealed to humanity by the gods. Pliny argued that the divine powers in their concern for the welfare of humanity wish for humanity to discover the secrets of nature. Pliny indeed argues that in their wisdom the gods sought to bring humans gradually closer to their status; which certainly many magical traditions seek – that is by acquiring knowledge one can aspire to gain knowledge even from the gods. Pliny expresses a firm concept is firmly being able to understand this "cosmic sympathy" that, if properly understood and used, operates for the good of humanity.[83] While here lies expressed the central tenets of magic Pliny is by means averse to using the term "magic" in a negative sense. Pliny argues that the claims of the professional magicians were either exaggerated or simply false.[84] Pliny expresses a rather an interesting concept when he states that those sorcerers who had written down their spells and recipes despised and hated humanity (for spreading their lies perhaps?).[85] To show this Pliny link arts of the magicians of Rome with the emperor Nero (who of course is often portrayed negatively), whom Pliny claims had studied magic with the best teachers and had access to the best books, but was unable to do anything extraordinary.[86] Pliny's conclusion, however, is cautious: though magic is ineffective and infamous, it nevertheless contains "shadows of truth", particularly of the "arts of making poisons". Yet, Pliny states, "there is no one who is not afraid of spells" (including himself presumably).[87] The amulets and charms that people wore as a kind of preventive medicine he neither commends or condemns, but instead suggests that it is better to err on the side of caution, for, who knows, a new kind of magic, a magic that really works, may be developed at any time.[87] If such an attitude prevailed in the Greco-Roman world this may explain why professional magicians, such as Simon the Magus, were on the lookout for new ideas. Of interest is the fact that Pliny devotes the beginning of Book 30 of his work to the magi of Persia and refers to them here and there especially in Books 28 and 29.[88] Pliny defines the Magi at times as sorcerers, but also seems to acknowledge that they are priests of a foreign religion, along the lines of the Druids of the Celts in Britain and Gaul. According to Pliny, the art of the magi touches three areas: "healing," "ritual," and "astrology."[89]

To the Platonist philosopher Plutarch of Chaeronea (c. 45–125 CE)[90] we owe the treatise On Superstition.[91] Plutarch defines "'superstition" as "fear of the gods." Specifically, he mentions that fear of the gods leads to the need to resort to magical rites and taboos, the consultation of professional sorcerers and witches, charms and spells, and unintelligible language in prayers addressed to the gods.[92] Although Plutarch himself takes dreams and portents seriously, he reserves superstition for those who have excessive or exclusive faith in such phenomena.[92] Clearly, it is a matter of discrimination. He also takes for granted other magical practices, such as hurting someone by the evil eye.[92] He also believes in daemons that serve as agents or links between gods and human beings and are responsible for many supernatural events in human life that are commonly attributed to divine intervention.[92] Thus, a daemon, not Apollo himself, is the everyday power behind the Delphic oracle. Some daemons are good, some are evil, but even the good ones, in moments of anger, can do harmful acts.[93] In general then, Plutarch actually accepts much of what we today might define as superstition in itself. So what he is really defining as superstition are those practices not compatible with his own philosophical doctrine.

A later Platonist, Apuleius of Madaura (born c. 125 CE),[94] gives us a substantial amount of information on contemporary beliefs in magic, though perhaps through no initial choice of his own. Apuleius was accused of practicing magic, something outlawed under Roman law. The speech he delivered in his own defense against the charge of magic, in c. 160 CE, remains and it is from this Apologia that we learn how easy it was, at that time, for a philosopher to be accused of magical practices.[95] Perhaps in a turn of irony or even a tacit admission of guilt Apuleius, in his work of fiction Metamorphoses (or The Golden Ass), which perhaps has autobiographical elements, allows the hero, Lucius, to dabble in magic as a young man, get into trouble, be rescued by the goddess Isis, and then finds true knowledge and happiness in her mysteries.[96] Like Plutarch Apuleius seems to take for granted the existence of daemons. They populate the air and seem to, in fact, be formed of air. They experience emotions just like human beings, and despite this their minds are rational.[97] In light of Apuleuis’ experience it is worth noting that when magic is mentioned in Roman laws, it is always discussed in a negative context. A consensus was established quite early in Roman history for the banning of anything viewed as harmful acts of magic. The Laws of the Twelve Tablets (451–450 BCE) for example expressly forbid anyone from enticing his neighbors’ crops into his fields by magic.[98][verification needed] An actual trial for alleged violation of these laws was held before Spurius Albinus in 157 BCE.[99] It is also recorded that Cornelius Hispallus expelled the Chaldean astrologers from Rome in 139 BCE – ostensibly on the grounds that they were magicians.[100] In 33 BCE astrologers and magicians are explicitly mentioned as having been driven from Rome.[101] Twenty years later, Augustus ordered all books on the magical arts to be burned. In 16 CE magicians and astrologers were expelled from Italy, and this was reinstated by edicts of Vespasian in 69 CE and Domitian in 89 CE. The emperor Constantine I in the 4th century CE issued a ruling to cover all charges of magic. In it he distinguished between helpful charms, not punishable, and antagonistic spells.[102] In these cases Roman authorities specifically decided what forms of magic were acceptable and which were not. Those that were not acceptable were termed "magic"; those that were acceptable were usually defined as traditions of the state or practices of the state's religions.


John Middleton argues in his article "Theories of Magic"" in the Encyclopaedia of Religion that:

Magic is usually defined subjectively rather than by any agreed upon content. But there is a wide consensus as to what this content is. Most peoples in the world perform acts by which they intend to bring about certain events or conditions, whether in nature or among people, that they hold to be the consequences of those acts.[103]

Under this view, the various aspects of magic that described, despite how the term "magic" may be defined by various groupings within the Greco-Roman world, is in fact part of a broader cosmology shared by most people in the ancient world. But it is important to seek an understanding of the way that groups separate power from power, thus "magic" often describes an art or practices that are much more specific. This art is probably best described, as being the manipulation of physical objects and cosmic forces, through the recitation of formulas and incantations by a specialist (that is a magus) on behalf of him/herself or a client to bring about control over or action in the divine realms. The Magical texts examined in this article, then, are ritual texts designed to manipulate divine powers for the benefit of either the user or clients. Because this was something done in secret or with foreign methods these texts represent an art that was generally looked upon as illegitimate by official or mainstream magical cults in societies.


  • Simpson, Jacqueline (2001). "The Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic in Europe". BNET. Retrieved October 1, 2008. In recent years, there has been a remarkable outpouring of academic witchcraft studies, of which these finely researched and judiciously balanced volumes provide an excellent example.

  • Swatos, William H. (1998). Encyclopedia of Religion and Society. Rowman Altamira. p. 279. ISBN 978-0-7619-8956-1.

  • See e.g. Robert Fowler, 'Greek Magic, Greek Religion', Illinois Classical Studies 20 (1995), pp. 1–22.

  • Parker, Robert (2005). Polytheism and Society at Athens. Oxford University Press. p. 122. ISBN 978-0-19-927483-3.

  • See also: Fairbanks, Arthur (1910). A Handbook of Greek Religion. American Book Company. p. 35. Magic was not at all foreign to Greek thought, but it was entirely foreign to the worship of the greater gods. ... Worship, in truth, was no more magic or barter than it was purely spiritual adoration.

  • Luck, Arcana Mundi p. 2

  • Luck, Arcana Mundi pp. 3–4

  • Luck, Arcana Mundi p. 3

  • Parker, Robert (2005). Polytheism and Society at Athens. Oxford University Press. pp. 123, 158. ISBN 978-0-19-927483-3.

  • See also: Burk, Walter (1985). Greek Religion. Blackwell Publishing. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-631-15624-6. Conscious magic is a matter for individuals, for a few, and is developed accordingly into a highly complicated pseudo-science.

  • Smith, A. Porphyry's Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition, p. 71ff.

  • On Democritus, L. Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, pp. 64–67.

  • Lynn Thorndike, Place of Magic in the Intellectual History of Europe, p. 62.

  • Homer. and E. V. Rieu, The Odyssey (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books,, 1945).

  • Odyssey. X. 13

  • Odyssey. X. 20

  • Odyssey. X. 28

  • Odyssey. X. 27

  • For more on this C.f. Scarborough, John. "The Pharmacology of Sacred, Plants & Roots", in Magika Hiera, pp. 138–174

  • Pliny in Natural History XXV, 10–12 states his belief that the "origin of botany" was closely aligned with what he saw as the practise of magic, he in fact notes that Medea & Circe were early investigators of plants – and that Orpheus was the first writer on the subject of botany.

  • Odyssey. X. 43.

  • Related in The first gods, from Hesiod's Theogony (Birth of the Gods), Translation by S. Lombardo, Hackett, Cambridge, pp. 64–66.

  • Drury, Magic and Witchcraft: From Shamanism to the Technopagans.

  • Pyth. 4.177

  • Agamemnon 16.30

  • Euripides, Alcestis 357ff.

  • Drury, Magic and Witchcraft. P. 34.

  • Aristotle frag. 191 Rose (3rd ed.) (=pp. 130ff. Ross). Burkert, Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism, pp. 162ff.

  • Cornelia J. de Vogel's Greek Philosophy: A Collection of Texts, vol. 1, Thales to Plato.

  • These miracles of Pythagoras are found in Hellenistic collections such as Apollonius’ Historia thaumasiai VI or Aelian's Varia historia II.26 and IV.17. Empedocles, the extant fragments / edited with an introduction, commentary, and concordance by M. R. Wright.

  • Pliny Natural History XXXVI. 27

  • Luck Arcana Mundi p. 42

  • Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, pp. 145–46.

  • 1 Corinthians 12: 7–11

  • Acts 19:18–20

  • Introduction by Hans Dieter Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells, 2nd ed. ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,, 1992).

  • Hull, Hellenistic Magic and the Synoptic Tradition, pp.23ff.

  • Mills, Human Agents of Cosmic Power, pp. 49–62. There are a number of other texts among the Greek magical papyri that are also indebted to Judaism for some of their content. There is a "Charm of Solomon that produces a trance" in PGM IV.850–929, but its religious content is otherwise pagan. Various versions of the "Eighth Book of Moses" appear in PGM XIII.1–343; 343–646; 646–734, followed by a "Tenth (?) Hidden [Book of] Moses" in 734–1077, but the content of these too, is almost entirely pagan.

  • See D. Winston, trans., The Wisdom of Solomon, pp. 172ff. The author of this apocryphal book was clearly familiar with Middle Platonism and may have belonged to the circle of Philo of Alexandria.

  • A.E. Crawley. Curses, in Encyclopaedia of religion and Ethics, 4:367ff.

  • Pliny. Natural History. XXVIII. 38, & XXIX. 66, & XXX. 138.

  • Campbell, Bonner. Studies in magical amulets, chiefly Graeco-Egyptian.

  • F. C. Burkitt, Church and Gnosis: a study of Christian thought and speculation in the second century, pp.35ff

  • Georg. Luck, Arcana Mundi – Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. (Baltimore.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985).

  • Luck, Arcana Mundi, p. 51.

  • Dodds, The Greek and the Irrational, p.291, quoting from Proclus' Theological Platonism.

  • Luck, Arcana Mundi p. 51

  • Georg Luck, Arcana Mundi p. 52

  • Luck, Georg (1999) "Witches and Sorcerers in Classical Literature" in Ankarloo & Clark Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome pp. 99,101

  • Gordon, Richard (1999) "Imagining Greek and Roman Magic" in Ankarloo & Clark Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome p. 164

  • Luck, Arcana Mundi p. 52

  • Virgil. and Robert Fitzgerald, The Aeneid (London: Harvill Press, 1984).

  • Ibid. Book IV

  • It thus seems likely that it was fairly commonly believed that those who died before their time could unleash enormous powers of destruction at the moment of their death and sometime afterwards.[original research?]

  • Virgil. The Aeneid. IV

  • See G. Scholem, in Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971), 10:489ff.

  • Seneca, Heracles on Mount Oeta, vv. 449-72.

  • A. D. Nock, in Beginnings of Christianity, vol. 5, ed. F.J.F. Jacson and K. Lake, pp. 164ff.; E. M. Butler, The Myth of the Magus, pp. 66ff

  • Hull, Hellenistic Magic and the Synoptic Tradition, p.38.

  • Cf. John. 1.

  • Cf. Luke. 1.

  • Cf. Luke. 4.

  • These themes are shared amongst divine men figures: Abaris yielded to Pythagoras, and Zoraster had to resist evil daemons for examples. See Manfred. Lurker, Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons (London ; New York: Routledge and K. Paul,, 1987).

  • M. Smith, Jesus the Magician, pp. 150ff; see also Mills, Human Agents of Cosmic Power, pp. 93–108.

  • Barry Crawford, Journal of the American Academy of Religion (1979), 321-322.

  • See R.S. Casey, in Beginnings of Christianity, 5:151ff.

  • There is a parallel story in Acts 13:6–12. (though in this case perhaps an insider being chastised).[original research?]

  • Justin Martyr. Dialogue with Trypho, ch.120

  • Maria Dzielska: Apollonius of Tyana in Legend and History, Rome 1986 (see p. 30-38 for the chronology).

  • Dzielska p. 12-49, 140–142.

  • Dzielska p. 12-13, 19–49, 141; Jaap-Jan Flinterman: Power, Paideia and Pythagoreanism, Amsterdam 1995, p. 79-88.

  • Dzielska p. 19-84.

  • Dzielska p. 99-127, 163–165.

  • Luck, Arcana Mundi p. 57

  • Luck, Arcana Mundi p. 58

  • See D. Winston, trans., The Wisdom of Solomon, pp. 172ff. The author of this apocryphal book was clearly familiar with Middle Platonism and may have belonged to the circle of Philo of Alexandria.[original research?] See also, Mills, Human Agents of Cosmic Power, pp. 49–62.

  • Luck, Arcana Mundi p. 58.

  • Josephus, Antiq. Jud. 8.45

  • Josephus. War. 2. 13. 5

  • Pliny the Elder Pliny et al., Natural History (London: Heinemann, 1940–63).

  • Pliny, Natural History 2.62, & Cf. Dodds, The Ancient Concept of Progress, p. 23.

  • Pliny. Natural History. 25.59, 29.20, 37.75

  • Pliny. Natural History. 37.40

  • Pliny. Natural History. 30.5–6

  • Pliny. Natural History. 28.4

  • For a discussion of this see, W.H.S. Jones, in Proceedings of the Cambrdge Philological Society 181 (1950/51), pp 7–8.

  • Pliny, Natural History. 30.1

  • F J.E. Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, 3rd ed.( Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1922), pp. 4ff.

  • E. Brenk, In Mist Apparelled: Religious Themes in Plutarch's "Moralia" and "Lives" (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1977), p. 59.

  • Dillon, Middle Platonists, pp. 216ff.

  • Apuleius. and John A. Hanson, Metamorphoses (Cambridge, London: Harvard University Press, 1989).

  • Ibid. (Introduction)

  • J. Tatum, Apuleius and the Golden Ass (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1979), pp. 28–29

  • Ibid

  • Richard. Cavendish, History of Magic (London: Arkana., 1987), p. 8.

  • Pliny, Natural History 18.41–43.

  • Eugene Tavenner, Studies in Magic from Latin Literature, p. 13.

  • Ibid

  • Liebeschuetz, Continuity and Change in Roman Religion, pp. 126–139.

  1. John Middleton, "Theories of Magic" in the Encyclopaedia of Religion (vol. 9, p. 82)

See also


Constructs such as ibid., loc. cit. and idem are discouraged by Wikipedia's style guide for footnotes, as they are easily broken. Please improve this article by replacing them with named references (quick guide), or an abbreviated title. (March 2010)

The inclusion of certain items in this list is currently being disputed. Please see the relevant discussion on the article's talk page. (September 2008)

  • Apollonius, Rhodius, and Peter Green. The Argonautika. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

  • Apuleius., and John A. Hanson. Metamorphoses. Cambridge, London: Harvard University Press, 1989.

  • Betz, Hans Dieter. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells. 2nd ed. ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

  • Bonner, Campbell. Studies in Magical Amulets, Chiefly Graeco-Egyptian. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1950.

  • Bouix, Christopher. Hocus Pocus : à l'école des sorciers en Grèce et à Rome. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2012.

  • Brenk, Frederick E. In Mist Apparelled: Religious Themes in Plutarch's Moralia and Lives. Leiden: Brill, 1977.

  • Burkert, Walter. Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1972.

  • Burkitt, F. Crawford. Church & Gnosis : A Study of Christian Thought and Speculation in the Second Century. New York: AMS Press, 1978.

  • Butler, E. M. Myth of the Magus. Cambridge.: Cambridge University Press., 1993.

  • Cambridge Philological Society. Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society. Cambridge, 1951.

  • Cavendish, Richard. History of Magic. London: Arkana., 1987.

  • Crane, Gregory. The Perseus Digital Library: http://Www.Perseus.Tufts.Edu/ Tufts University, 2004.

  • Dillon, John M. The Middle Platonists, 80 B.C. To A.D. 220. Rev. ed. with a new afterword. ed. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996.

  • Dodds, E. R. The Ancient Concept of Progress and Other Essays on Greek Literature and Belief. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973.

  • ———. The Greeks and the Irrational. Berkeley [California]: University of California Press, 1951.

  • Drury, Nevill. Magic and Witchcraft: From Shamanism to the Technopagans. London: Thames & Hudson, 2003.

  • Empedocles., and M. R. Wright. Empedocles, the Extant Fragments. New Haven ; London: Yale University Press, 1981.

  • Faraone, Christopher A., and Dirk. Obbink. Magika Hiera : Ancient Greek Magic and Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

  • Frye, Richard Nelson. The Heritage of Persia. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962.

  • Harrison, Jane Ellen. Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion. 2nd ed. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908.

  • Hastings, James. Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. Edinburgh: Clark, 1908–1926.

  • Herodotus., and Aubrey De Selincourt. The Histories. New ed. ed. London: Penguin Books, 1996.

  • Homer., and E. V. Rieu. The Odyssey. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1945.

  • Hull, John. M. Hellenistic Magic and the Synoptic Tradition, [Studies in Biblical Theology]. LONDON: SCM PRESS, 1974.

  • Iamblichus. Theurgia or the Egyptian Mysteries: Reply of Abammon, the Teacher to the Letter of Porphyry to Anebo Together with Solutions of the Questions Therein Contained. Translated by M.D. F.A.S. ALEXANDER WILDER. London: William Rider & Son Ltd, 1911.

  • Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus : Complete and Unabridged. New updated ed. ed. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987.

  • Liebeschuetz, John Hugo Wolfgang Gideon. Continuity and Change in Roman Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1979.

  • Luck, Georg. Arcana Mundi – Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Baltimore.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985.

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  • ———. La Magie dans l'Antiquité. Paris: Ellipses, 2012.

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External links

Renaissance magic

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Renaissance humanism (15th and 16th century) saw a resurgence in hermeticism and Neo-Platonic varieties of ceremonial magic.


Artes magicae

The seven artes magicae or artes prohibitae, arts prohibited by canon law, as expounded by Johannes Hartlieb in 1456, their sevenfold partition reflecting that of the artes liberales and artes mechanicae, were:

  1. nigromancy ("black magic", demonology, by popular etymology, from necromancy)

  2. geomancy

  3. hydromancy

  4. aeromancy

  5. pyromancy

  6. chiromancy

  7. scapulimancy

The division between the four "elemental" disciplines (viz., geomancy, hydromancy, aeromancy, pyromancy) is somewhat contrived. Chiromancy is the divination from a subject's palms as practiced by the Romani (at the time recently arrived in Europe), and scapulimancy is the divination from animal bones, in particular shoulder blades as practiced in peasant superstition. Nigromancy contrasts with this as scholarly "high magic" derived from High Medieval grimoires such as the Picatrix or the Liber Rasielis.

Renaissance occultism

Both bourgeoisie and nobility in the 15th and 16th century showed great fascination with these arts, which exerted an exotic charm by their ascription to Arabic, Jewish, Romani and Egyptian sources. There was great uncertainty in distinguishing practices of vain superstition, blasphemous occultism, and perfectly sound scholarly knowledge or pious ritual. The intellectual and spiritual tensions erupted in the Early Modern witch craze, further re-inforced by the turmoils of the Protestant Reformation, especially in Germany, England, and Scotland.

C. S. Lewis in his 1954 English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama differentiates what he takes to be the change of character in magic as practiced in the Middle Ages as opposed to the Renaissance:

Only an obstinate prejudice about this period could blind us to a certain change which comes over the merely literary texts as we pass from the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century. In medieval story there is, in one sense, plenty of “magic”. Merlin does this or that “by his subtilty”, Bercilak resumes his severed head. But all these passages have unmistakably the note of “faerie” about them. But in Spenser, Marlowe, Chapman, and Shakespeare the subject is treated quite differently. “He to his studie goes”; books are opened, terrible words pronounced, souls imperiled. The medieval author seems to write for a public to whom magic, like knight-errantry, is part of the furniture of romance: the Elizabethan, for a public who feel that it might be going on in the next street. [...] Neglect of this point has produced strange readings of The Tempest, which is in reality [...] Shakespeare’s play on magia as Macbeth is his play on goeteia (p. 8)

The Hermetic/Cabalist magic which was created by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino was made popular in northern Europe, most notably England, by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's De occulta philosophia libra tres. Agrippa had revolutionary ideas about magical theory and procedure that were widely circulated in the Renaissance among those who sought out knowledge of occult philosophy. "Agrippa himself was famous as a scholar, physician jurist, and astrologer, but throughout his life he was continually persecuted as a heretic. His problems stemmed not only from his reputation as a conjurer, but also from his vehement criticism of the vices of the ruling classes and of the most respected intellectual and religious authorities." While some scholars and students viewed Agrippa as a source of intellectual inspiration, to many others, his practices dubious and his beliefs serious. The transitive side of magic is explored in Agrippa's De occulta philosophia, and at times it is vulgarized. Yet in Pico and Ficino we never lose sight of magic's solemn religious purposes: the magician explores the secrets of nature so as to arouse wonder at the works of God and to inspire a more ardent worship and love of the Creator. "Considerable space is devoted to examples of evil sorcery in De occulta philosophia, and one might easily come away from the treatise with the impression that Agrippa found witchcraft as intriguing as benevolent magic"[1]

Baroque period

The study of the occult arts remained widespread in the universities across Europe up until the Disenchantment period of the 17th Century. At the peak of the witch trials, there was a certain danger to be associated with witchcraft or sorcery, and most learned authors take pains to clearly renounce the practice of forbidden arts. Thus, Agrippa while admitting that natural magic is the highest form of natural philosophy unambiguously rejects all forms of ceremonial magic (goetia or necromancy). Indeed, the keen interest taken by intellectual circles in occult topics provided one driving force that enabled the witchhunts to endure beyond the Renaissance and into the 18th century.[citation needed] As the intellectual mainstream in the early 18th century ceased to believe in witchcraft, the witch trials subsided almost instantaneously.[citation needed]

List of authors

Renaissance authors writing on occult or magical topics include:

Late Middle Ages to early Renaissance
Renaissance and Reformation
Baroque period

See also


  1. Renaissance Magic & the Return of the Golden Age, John S. Membane


  • Kurt Benesch, Magie der Renaissance (1985). ISBN 3-921695-91-0.

  • Norman Cohn, Europe's Inner Demons: The Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom, University Of Chicago Press (2001). ISBN 978-0-226-11307-4.

  • Heiser, James D., Prisci Theologi and the Hermetic Reformation in the Fifteenth Century, Repristination Press (2011). ISBN 978-1-4610-9382-4.

  • Nauert, Charles G. Agrippa and the Crisis of Renaissance Thought. Urbana: University of Illinois Press (1965).

  • Ruickbie, Leo, Faustus: The Life and Times of a Renaissance Magician. The History Press (2009). ISBN 978-0-7509-5090-9

  • Szonyi, Gyorgy E., John Dee's Occultism: Magical Exaltation Through Powerful Signs, S U N Y Series in Western Esoteric Traditions, State University of New York Press (2005). ISBN 978-0-7914-6223-2.