On the classification of paranormal subjects, Terence Hines in his book Pseudoscience and the Paranormal (2003) wrote:

The paranormal can best be thought of as a subset of pseudoscience. What sets the paranormal apart from other pseudosciences is a reliance on explanations for alleged phenomena that are well outside the bounds of established science. Thus, paranormal phenomena include extrasensory perception (ESP), telekinesis, ghosts, poltergeists, life after death, reincarnation, faith healing, human auras, and so forth. The explanations for these allied phenomena are phrased in vague terms of "psychic forces", "human energy fields", and so on. This is in contrast to many pseudoscientific explanations for other nonparanormal phenomena, which, although very bad science, are still couched in acceptable scientific terms.[9]

Ghosts and other spiritual entities

In traditional belief and fiction, a ghost is a manifestation of the spirit or soul of a person.[10] Alternative theories expand on that idea and include belief in the ghosts of deceased animals. Sometimes the term ghost is used synonymously with any spirit or demon,[11] however in popular usage the term typically refers to a deceased person's spirit.

The belief in ghosts as souls of the departed is closely tied to the concept of animism, an ancient belief which attributed souls to everything in nature.[12] As the 19th-century anthropologist George Frazer explained in his classic work, The Golden Bough, souls were seen as the creature within that animated the body.[13][page needed] Although the human soul was sometimes symbolically or literally depicted in ancient cultures as a bird or other animal, it was widely held that the soul was an exact reproduction of the body in every feature, even down to clothing the person wore. This is depicted in artwork from various ancient cultures, including such works as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which shows deceased people in the afterlife appearing much as they did before death, including the style of dress.

Although the evidence for ghosts is largely anecdotal, the belief in ghosts throughout history has remained widespread and persistent.

Extraterrestrial life and UFOs

Main articles: extraterrestrial hypothesis and unidentified flying object

The possibility of extraterrestrial life is not, by itself, a paranormal subject. Many scientists are actively engaged in the search for unicellular life within the solar system, carrying out studies on the surface of Mars and examining meteors that have fallen to Earth.[14] Projects such as SETI are conducting an astronomical search for radio activity that would show evidence of intelligent life outside the solar system.[15] Scientific theories of how life developed on Earth allow for the possibility that life developed on other planets as well. The paranormal aspect of extraterrestrial life centers largely around the belief in unidentified flying objects and the phenomena said to be associated with them.

Early in the history of UFO culture, believers divided themselves into two camps. The first held a rather conservative view of the phenomena, interpreting them as unexplained occurrences that merited serious study. They began calling themselves "ufologists" in the 1950s and felt that logical analysis of sighting reports would validate the notion of extraterrestrial visitation.[12][page needed]

The second camp consisted of individuals who coupled ideas of extraterrestrial visitation with beliefs from existing quasi-religious movements. These individuals typically were enthusiasts of occultism and the paranormal. Many had backgrounds as active Theosophists, Spiritualists, or were followers of other esoteric doctrines. In contemporary times, many of these beliefs have coalesced into New Age spiritual movements.[12][page needed]

Both secular and spiritual believers describe UFOs as having abilities beyond what are considered possible according to known aerodynamic constraints and physical laws. The transitory events surrounding many UFO sightings also limits the opportunity for repeat testing required by the scientific method. Acceptance of UFO theories by the larger scientific community is further hindered by the many possible hoaxes associated with UFO culture.


Main articles: cryptid and cryptozoology

A cryptid is an animal whose existence is not confirmed by science or an animal that is considered extinct. The study of these creatures is known as cryptozoology. Those that study the existence of cryptids are called cryptozoologists. Claims of cryptid sightings have occurred and been documented for centuries, and there are hundreds of distinct cryptids thought to be in existence today. Some of the more popular cryptids include Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Yeti, living non-bird dinosaurs, Mothman, the Jersey Devil, dragons, unicorns and werewolves.

Paranormal research

Approaching the paranormal from a research perspective is often difficult because of the lack of acceptable physical evidence from most of the purported phenomena. By definition, the paranormal does not conform to conventional expectations of nature. Therefore, a phenomenon cannot be confirmed as paranormal using the scientific method because, if it could be, it would no longer fit the definition. (However, confirmation would result in the phenomenon being reclassified as part of science.) Despite this problem, studies on the paranormal are periodically conducted by researchers from various disciplines. Some researchers simply study the beliefs in the paranormal regardless of whether the phenomena are considered to objectively exist. This section deals with various approaches to the paranormal: anecdotal, experimental, and participant-observer approaches and the skeptical investigation approach.

Anecdotal approach

Charles Fort, 1920. Fort is perhaps the most widely known collector of paranormal stories.

An anecdotal approach to the paranormal involves the collection of stories told about the paranormal.

Charles Fort (1874–1932) is perhaps the best known collector of paranormal anecdotes. Fort is said to have compiled as many as 40,000 notes on unexplained paranormal experiences, though there were no doubt many more. These notes came from what he called "the orthodox conventionality of Science", which were odd events originally reported in magazines and newspapers such as The Times and scientific journals such as Scientific American, Nature and Science. From this research Fort wrote seven books, though only four survive: The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931) and Wild Talents (1932); one book was written between New Lands and Lo!, but it was abandoned and absorbed into Lo!

Reported events that he collected include teleportation (a term Fort is generally credited with coining); poltergeist events; falls of frogs, fishes, and inorganic materials of an amazing range; crop circles; unaccountable noises and explosions; spontaneous fires; levitation; ball lightning (a term explicitly used by Fort); unidentified flying objects; mysterious appearances and disappearances; giant wheels of light in the oceans; and animals found outside their normal ranges (see phantom cat). He offered many reports of OOPArts, abbreviation for "out of place" artifacts: strange items found in unlikely locations. He is perhaps the first person to explain strange human appearances and disappearances by the hypothesis of alien abduction and was an early proponent of the extraterrestrial hypothesis.

Fort is considered by many as the father of modern paranormalism, which is the study of the paranormal.

The magazine Fortean Times continues Charles Fort's approach, regularly reporting anecdotal accounts of the paranormal.

Such anecdotal collections, lacking the reproducibility of empirical evidence, are not amenable to scientific investigation. The anecdotal approach is not a scientific approach to the paranormal because it leaves verification dependent on the credibility of the party presenting the evidence. Nevertheless, it is a common approach to investigating paranormal phenomena.


Main article: Parapsychology

Participant of a Ganzfeld experiment which proponents say may show evidence of telepathy.

Experimental investigation of the paranormal has been conducted by parapsychologists. J. B. Rhine popularized the now famous methodology of using card-guessing and dice-rolling experiments in a laboratory in the hopes of finding evidence of extrasensory perception.[16] However, it was revealed that Rhine's experiments contained methodological flaws and procedural errors.[17][18][19]

In 1957, the Parapsychological Association was formed as the preeminent society for parapsychologists. In 1969, they became affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.[20] Criticisms of the field were focused in the founding of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (1976), now called the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and its periodical, Skeptical Inquirer.[21] Eventually, more mainstream scientists became critical of parapsychology as an endeavor, and statements by the National Academies of Science and the National Science Foundation cast a pall on the claims of evidence for parapsychology. Today, many cite parapsychology as an example of a pseudoscience.[22][23] Parapsychology has been criticized for continuing investigation despite being unable to provide convincing evidence for the existence of any psychic phenomena after more than a century of research.[24][25]

By the 2000s, the status of paranormal research in the United States had greatly declined from its height in the 1970s, with the majority of work being privately funded and only a small amount of research being carried out in university laboratories. In 2007, Britain had a number of privately funded laboratories in university psychology departments.[26] Publication remained limited to a small number of niche journals,[26] and to date there have been no experimental results that have gained wide acceptance in the scientific community as valid evidence of the paranormal.[26]

Participant-observer approach

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. (January 2015)

A ghost hunter taking an EMF reading (Electro Magnetic Field), which proponents claim may be connected to paranormal activity.

While parapsychologists look for quantitative evidence of the paranormal in laboratories, a great number of people immerse themselves in qualitative research through participant-observer approaches to the paranormal. Participant-observer methodologies have overlaps with other essentially qualitative approaches as well, including phenomenological research that seeks largely to describe subjects as they are experienced, rather than to explain them.[27][page needed]

Participant-observation suggests that by immersing oneself in the subject being studied, a researcher is presumed to gain understanding of the subject. Criticisms of participant-observation as a data-gathering technique are similar to criticisms of other approaches to the paranormal, but also include an increased threat to the objectivity of the researcher, unsystematic gathering of data, reliance on subjective measurement, and possible observer effects (observation may distort the observed behavior).[28][page needed] Specific data gathering methods, such as recording EMF readings at haunted locations have their own criticisms beyond those attributed to the participant-observation approach itself.

The participant-observer approach to the paranormal has gained increased visibility and popularity through reality television programs like Ghost Hunters, and the formation of independent ghost hunting groups that advocate immersive research at alleged paranormal locations. One popular website for ghost hunting enthusiasts lists over 300 of these organizations throughout the United States and the United Kingdom.[29]

Skeptical scientific investigation

James Randi is a well-known investigator of paranormal claims.

Scientific skeptics advocate critical investigation of claims of paranormal phenomena: applying the scientific method to reach a rational, scientific explanation of the phenomena to account for the paranormal claims, taking into account that alleged paranormal abilities and occurrences are sometimes hoaxes or misinterpretations of natural phenomena. A way of summarizing this method is by the application of Occam's razor, which suggests that the simpler solution is usually the correct one.[30] The standard scientific models give the explanation that what appears to be paranormal phenomena is usually a misinterpretation, misunderstanding, or anomalous variation of natural phenomena, rather than an actual paranormal phenomenon.[31][32][33]

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, formerly the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), is an organization that aims to publicize the scientific, skeptical approach. It carries out investigations aimed at understanding paranormal reports in terms of scientific understanding, and publishes its results in its journal, the Skeptical Inquirer.

Richard Wiseman, of The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, draws attention to possible alternative explanations for perceived paranormal activity in his article, The Haunted Brain. While he recognizes that approximately 15% of people believe they have experienced an encounter with a ghost, he reports that only 1% report seeing a full-fledged ghost while the rest report strange sensory stimuli, such as seeing fleeting shadows or wisps of smoke, or the sensation of hearing footsteps or feeling a presence. Wiseman makes the claim that, rather than experiencing paranormal activity, it is activity within our own brains that creates these strange sensations.[32]

Michael Persinger proposed that ghostly experiences could be explained by stimulating the brain with weak magnetic fields.[32] Swedish psychologist Pehr Granqvist and his team, attempting to replicate Persinger's research, determined that the paranormal sensations experienced by Persinger's subjects were merely the result of suggestion, and that brain stimulation with magnetic fields did not result in ghostly experiences.[32]

Oxford University Justin Barrett has theorized that "agency" — being able to figure out why people do what they do — is so important in everyday life, that it is natural for our brains to work too hard at it, thereby detecting human or ghost-like behaviour in everyday meaningless stimuli.[32]

James Randi an investigator with a background in illusion feels that the simplest explanation for those claiming paranormal abilities is often trickery, illustrated by demonstrating that the spoon bending abilities of psychic Uri Geller can easily be duplicated by trained stage magicians.[34][35] He is also the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation and its million dollar challenge offering a prize of US $1,000,000 to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event, under test conditions agreed to by both parties.[36] Despite many declarations of supernatural ability, this prize remains unclaimed.


Main article: Anomalistic psychology

In anomalistic psychology, paranormal phenomena have naturalistic explanations resulting from psychological and physical factors which have sometimes given the impression of paranormal activity to some people, in fact, where there have been none.[37] The psychologist David Marks wrote that paranormal phenomena can be explained by magical thinking, mental imagery, subjective validation, coincidence, hidden causes, and fraud.[31] According to studies some people tend to hold paranormal beliefs because they possess psychology attributes that make them more likely to misattribute paranormal causation to normal experiences.[38][39] Research has also discovered that cognitive bias is a factor underlying paranormal belief.[40][41]

Chris French founder of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit.

Many studies have found a link between personality and psychopathology variables correlating with paranormal belief.[42][43][44] Some studies have also shown that fantasy proneness correlates positively with paranormal belief.[45]

Bainbridge (1978) and Wuthnow (1976) found that the most susceptible people to paranormal belief are those who are poorly educated, unemployed or have roles that rank low among social values. The alienation of these people due to their status in society is said to encourage them to appeal to paranormal or magical beliefs.[46][47]

Research has associated paranormal belief with low cognitive ability, low IQ and a lack of science education.[48][49] Intelligent and highly educated participants involved in surveys have proven to have less paranormal belief.[50][51][52] Tobacyk (1984) and Messer and Griggs (1989) discovered that college students with better grades have less belief in the paranormal.[53][54]

In a case study (Gow, 2004) involving 167 participants the findings revealed that psychological absorption and dissociation were higher for believers in the paranormal.[55] Another study involving 100 students had revealed a positive correlation between paranormal belief and proneness to dissociation.[56] A study (Williams et al. 2007) discovered that "neuroticism is fundamental to individual differences in paranormal belief, while paranormal belief is independent of extraversion and psychoticism".[57] A correlation has been found between paranormal belief and irrational thinking.[58][59]

In an experiment Wierzbicki (1985) reported a significant correlation between paranormal belief and the number of errors made on a syllogistic reasoning task, suggesting that believers in the paranormal have lower cognitive ability.[60] A relationship between narcissistic personality and paranormal belief was discovered in a study involving the Australian Sheep-Goat Scale.[61]

De Boer and Bierman wrote:

In his article 'Creative or Defective' Radin (2005) asserts that many academics explain the belief in the paranormal by using one of the three following hypotheses: Ignorance, deprivation or deficiency. 'The ignorance hypothesis asserts that people believe in the paranormal because they're uneducated or stupid. The deprivation hypothesis proposes that these beliefs exist to provide a way to cope in the face of psychological uncertainties and physical stressors. The deficiency hypothesis asserts that such beliefs arise because people are mentally defective in some way, ranging from low intelligence or poor critical thinking ability to a full-blown psychosis' (Radin). The deficiency hypothesis gets some support from the fact that the belief in the paranormal is an aspect of a schizotypical personality (Pizzagalli, Lehman and Brugger, 2001).[62]

A psychological study involving 174 members of the Society for Psychical Research completed a delusional ideation questionnaire and a deductive reasoning task. As predicted, the study showed that "individuals who reported a strong belief in the paranormal made more errors and displayed more delusional ideation than skeptical individuals". There was also a reasoning bias which was limited to people who reported a belief in, rather than experience of, paranormal phenomena. The results suggested that reasoning abnormalities may have a causal role in the formation of paranormal belief.[63]

Research has shown that people reporting contact with aliens have higher levels of absorption, dissociativity, fantasy proneness and tendency to hallucinate.[64]

Findings have shown in specific cases that paranormal belief acts as a psychodynamic coping function and serves as a mechanism for coping with stress.[65] Survivors from childhood sexual abuse, violent and unsettled home environments have reported to have higher levels of paranormal belief.[66][67] A study of a random sample of 502 adults revealed paranormal experiences were common in the population which were linked to a history of childhood trauma and dissociative symptoms.[68] Research has also suggested that people who perceive themselves as having little control over their lives may develop paranormal beliefs to help provide an enhanced sense of control.[69]

Gender differences in surveys on paranormal belief have reported women scoring higher than men overall and men having greater belief in UFOs and extraterrestrials.[70][71] Surveys have also investigated the relationship between ethnicity and paranormal belief. In a sample of American university students (Tobacyk et al. 1988) it was found that blacks have a higher level of belief in superstitions and witchcraft while belief in extraterrestrial life forms was stronger among whites.[72] Otis and Kuo (1984) surveyed Singapore university students and found Chinese, Indian and Malay students to differ in their paranormal beliefs, with the Chinese students showing greater skepticism.[73]

According to American surveys analysed by (Bader et al. 2011) African Americans have the highest belief in the paranormal and while the findings are not uniform the "general trend is for whites to show lesser belief in most paranormal subjects".[74]

Polls show that about fifty percent of the United States population believe in the paranormal. Robert L. Park says a lot of people believe in it because they "want it to be so".[75]

A 2014 study discovered that schizophrenic patients have more belief in psi than healthy adults.[76]


Some scientists have investigated possible neurocognitive processes underlying the formation of paranormal beliefs.[77] In a study (Pizzagalli et al. 2000) data demonstrated that "subjects differing in their declared belief in and experience with paranormal phenomena as well as in their schizotypal ideation, as determined by a standardized instrument, displayed differential brain electric activity during resting periods."[78] Another study (Schulter and Papousek, 2008) wrote that paranormal belief can be explained by patterns of functional hemispheric asymmetry that may be related to perturbations during fetal development.[79]

It was also realised that people with higher dopamine levels have the ability to find patterns and meanings when in reality there isn't. This is why scientists have connected high dopamine levels with paranormal belief.[80]


Some scientists have criticised the media for promoting paranormal claims. In a report (Singer and Benassi, 1981) wrote that the media may account for much of the near universality of paranormal belief as the public are constantly exposed to films, newspapers, documentaries and books endorsing paranormal claims while critical coverage is largely absent.[81] According to Paul Kurtz "In regard to the many talk shows that constantly deal with paranormal topics, the skeptical viewpoint is rarely heard; and when it is permitted to be expressed, it is usually sandbagged by the host or other guests." Kurtz described the popularity of public belief in the paranormal as a "quasi-religious phenomenon", a manifestation of a transcendental temptation, a tendency for people to seek a transcendental reality that cannot be known by using the methods of science. Kurtz compared this to a primitive form of magical thinking.[82]

Terence Hines has written that on a personal level, paranormal claims could be considered a form of consumer fraud as people are "being induced through false claims to spend their money—often large sums—on paranormal claims that do not deliver what they promise" and uncritical acceptance of paranormal belief systems can be damaging to society.[83]

Belief polls

While the validity of the existence of paranormal phenomena is controversial and debated passionately by both proponents of the paranormal and by skeptics, surveys are useful in determining the beliefs of people in regards to paranormal phenomena. These opinions, while not constituting scientific evidence for or against, may give an indication of the mindset of a certain portion of the population (at least among those who answered the polls).

Percentage of U.S. citizens polled


not sure


not sure



not sure


Farha-Steward (2006)

Gallup (2001)

Gallup (2005)[84]

psychic, spiritual healing






55 [a]












haunted houses









demonic possession



























extraterrestrials visited Earth in the past









clairvoyance and prophecy













































Another survey conducted in 2006 by researchers from Australia's Monash University[85] sought to determine what types of phenomena that people claim to have experienced and the effects these experiences have had on their lives. The study was conducted as an online survey with over 2,000 respondents from around the world participating. The results revealed that around 70% of the respondents believe to have had an unexplained paranormal event that changed their life, mostly in a positive way. About 70% also claimed to have seen, heard, or been touched by an animal or person that they knew was not there; 80% have reported having a premonition, and almost 50% stated they recalled a previous life.[85]

Polls were conducted by Bryan Farha at Oklahoma City University and Gary Steward of the University of Central Oklahoma in 2006. They found fairly consistent results compared to the results of a Gallup poll in 2001.[86]

A survey by Jeffrey S. Levin, associate professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk found that over 2/3 of the U.S. population reported having at least one mystical experience.[86][87]

A 1996 Gallup poll estimated that 71% of the people in the United States believed that the government was covering up information about UFOs. A 2002 Roper poll conducted for the Sci Fi channel reported that 56% thought UFOs were real craft and 48% that aliens had visited the Earth.[86]

A 2001 National Science Foundation survey found that 9 percent of people polled thought astrology was very scientific, and 31 percent thought it was somewhat scientific. About 32% of Americans surveyed stated that some numbers were lucky, while 46% of Europeans agreed with that claim. About 60% of all people polled believed in some form of Extra-sensory perception and 30% thought that "some of the unidentified flying objects that have been reported are really space vehicles from other civilizations."[88]

Paranormal challenges

Main article: List of prizes for evidence of the paranormal

In 1922, Scientific American offered two US $2,500 offers: (1) for the first authentic spirit photograph made under test conditions, and (2) for the first psychic to produce a "visible psychic manifestation". Harry Houdini was a member of the investigating committee. The first medium to be tested was George Valiantine, who claimed that in his presence spirits would speak through a trumpet that floated around a darkened room. For the test, Valiantine was placed in a room, the lights were extinguished, but unbeknownst to him his chair had been rigged to light a signal in an adjoining room if he ever left his seat. Because the light signals were tripped during his performance, Valiantine did not collect the award.[89] The last to be examined by Scientific American was Mina Crandon in 1924.

Since then, many individuals and groups have offered similar monetary awards for proof of the paranormal in an observed setting. These prizes have a combined value of over $2.4 million.[90]

The James Randi Educational Foundation offers a prize of a million dollars to a person who can prove that they have supernatural or paranormal abilities under appropriate test conditions. Several other skeptic groups also offer a monied prize for proof of the paranormal, including the largest group of paranormal investigators, the Independent Investigations Group, which has chapters in Hollywood; Atlanta; Denver; Washington, D.C.; Alberta, B.C.; and San Francisco. The IIG offers a $50,000 prize and a $5,000 finders fee if a claimant can prove a paranormal claim under 2 scientifically controlled tests. Founded in 2000 no claimant has passed the first (and lower odds) of the test.[91]

See also



  • Also includes the effect of placebo through "power of the human mind to heal the body".[84]

  1. Some may have taken this metaphorically.[84]


  • Stenger, Victor. (1990). Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World Beyond the Senses. Prometheus Books. pp. 33–52. ISBN 978-0-87975-575-1

  • Gordon, Stuart. (1993). The Paranormal: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Trafalgar Square. ISBN 978-0747236030

  • Hines, Terence. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 20. ISBN 1-57392-979-4

  • Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology edited by J. Gordon Melton Gale Research, ISBN 0-8103-5487-X

  • Hamel, Frazer, ed. The Golden Bough, London: Wordsworth, 1993.

  • Gulliksen, Harold. (1938). "Extra-Sensory Perception: What Is It?". American Journal of Sociology. Vol. 43, No. 4. pp. 623–634. "Investigating Rhine's methods, we find that his mathematical methods are wrong and that the effect of this error would in some cases be negligible and in others very marked. We find that many of his experiments were set up in a manner which would tend to increase, instead of to diminish, the possibility of systematic clerical errors; and lastly, that the ESP cards can be read from the back."

  • Wynn, Charles; Wiggins, Arthur. (2001). Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction: Where Real Science Ends ... and Pseudoscience Begins. Joseph Henry Press. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-309-07309-7 "In 1940, Rhine coauthored a book, Extrasensory Perception After Sixty Years in which he suggested that something more than mere guess work was involved in his experiments. He was right! It is now known that the experiments conducted in his laboratory contained serious methodological flaws. Tests often took place with minimal or no screening between the subject and the person administering the test. Subjects could see the backs of cards that were later discovered to be so cheaply printed that a faint outline of the symbol could be seen. Furthermore, in face-to-face tests, subjects could see card faces reflected in the tester's eyeglasses or cornea. They were even able to (consciously or unconsciously) pick up clues from the tester's facial expression and voice inflection. In addition, an observant subject could identify the cards by certain irregularities like warped edges, spots on the backs, or design imperfections."

  • Hines, Terence. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 122. ISBN 1-57392-979-4 "The procedural errors in the Rhine experiments have been extremely damaging to his claims to have demonstrated the existence of ESP. Equally damaging has been the fact that the results have not replicated when the experiments have been conducted in other laboratories."

  • Harvey J. Irwin, Caroline A. Watt. (2007). An Introduction to Parapsychology, 5th ed. McFarland. p. 249

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  • Hines, Terence. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 144. ISBN 1-57392-979-4 "It is important to realize that, in one hundred years of parapsychological investigations, there has never been a single adequate demonstration of the reality of any psi phenomenon."

  • Cordón, Luis A. (2005). Popular Psychology: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood Press. p. 182. ISBN 0-313-32457-3. "The essential problem is that a large portion of the scientific community, including most research psychologists, regards parapsychology as a pseudoscience, due largely to its failure to move beyond null results in the way science usually does. Ordinarily, when experimental evidence fails repeatedly to support a hypothesis, that hypothesis is abandoned. Within parapsychology, however, more than a century of experimentation has failed even to conclusively demonstrate the mere existence of paranormal phenomenon, yet parapsychologists continue to pursue that elusive goal."

  • Logical Investigations Husserl, E. 1970 Humanities Press

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  • Hurley, Patrick J. (2010). A Concise Introduction to Logic. 11th Edition. Wadsworth Publishing. p. 626. ISBN 978-0840034168 "In fact Geller was just a clever trickster who duped his audiences. Geller's trickery was exposed in large measure by the magician James Randi. After watching videotapes of Geller's performances, Randi discovered how Geller performed his tricks, and in no time he was able to perform every one of them himself. Sometimes Geller would prepare a spoon or key beforehand by bending it back and forth several times to the point where it was nearly ready to break. Later, by merely stroking it gently, he could cause it to double over. On other occasions Geller, or his accomplices, would use sleight-of-hand maneuvers to substitute bent objects in the place of straight ones."

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  • Messer, W. S., & Griggs, R. A. (1989). "Student belief and involvement in the paranormal and performance in introductory psychology". Teaching of Psychology, 16, 187–191.

  • Gow, K., Lang, T. and Chant, D. (2004). "Fantasy proneness, paranormal beliefs and personality features in out-of-body experiences". Contemp. Hypnosis, 21: 107–125.

  • Irwin, H. J. (1994). "Paranormal belief and proneness to dissociation". Psychological Reports, 75, 1344–1346.

  • Williams, Emyr, Francis, Leslie J. and Robbins, Mandy. (2007). "Personality and paranormal belief: a study among adolescents". Pastoral Psychology, Vol. 56 (No. 1). pp. 9–14

  • Tobayck, J. & Milford, G. (1983). "Belief in paranormal phenomena: assessment instrument development and implications for personality functioning". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 1029–1037.

  • Roig, M., Bridges, K. R., Renner, C. H. & Jackson, C. R. (1998). "Belief in the paranormal and its association with irrational thinking controlled for context effects". Personality and Individual Differences, 24 (2), 229–236.

  • Wierzbicki, M. (1985). "Reasoning errors and belief in the paranormal". Journal of Social Psychology, 125, 489–494.

  • Roe, C. A. and Morgan, C. L. (2002). "Narcissism and belief in the paranormal". Psychological Reports, 90, 405–411.

  • Boer de R. & Bierman, D. J. (2006). "The roots of paranormal belief: Divergent associations or real paranormal experiences?" Proceedings of the PA 2006 Convention, 283–298.

  • Lawrence, E., & Peters, E. (2004). "Reasoning in believers in the paranormal". Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 192, 727–733.

  • French, C. C., Santomauro, J., Hamilton, V., Fox, R., & Thalbourne, M. (2008). "Psychological aspects of the alien contact experience". Cortex. 44, 1387–1395.

  • Perkins SL, Allen R. (2006). Childhood physical abuse and differential development of paranormal belief systems. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 194: 349-355.

  • French, C. C., & Kerman, M. K. (1996). "Childhood trauma, fantasy proneness and belief in the paranormal". Paper presented to the 1996 London Conference of the British Psychological Society, Institute of Education, University of London, 17–18 December 1996.

  • Lawrence. T., Edwards, C., Barraclough, N., Church S., & Hetherington, F. (1995). "Modelling childhood causes of paranormal belief and experience: Childhood trauma and childhood fantasy". Personality & Individual Differences, 19(2), 209–215.

  • Ross, C. A. & Joshi, S. "Paranormal Experiences in the General Population". Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 180, 357–361.

  • Blackmore, S. J., & Troscianko, T. (1985). "Belief in the paranormal: probability judgements, illusory control and the 'chance baseline shift'". British Journal of Psychology. 76, 459–468.

  • Clarke, D. (1991). "Belief in the paranormal: a New Zealand survey". Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 57, 412–425.

  • Rice, T. W. (2003). "Believe it or not: religious and other paranormal beliefs in the United States". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 42, 95–106.

  • Tobacyk, J. J., Nagot, E., & Miller, M. (1988). "Paranormal beliefs and locus of control: A Multidimensional examination". Journal of Personality Assessment, 54, 241–246.

  • Otis, L. P., & Kuo, E. C. Y. (1984). "Extraordinary beliefs among students in Singapore and Canada". Journal of Psychology, 116, 215–226.

  • Christopher D. Bader, F. Carson Mencken and Joseph Baker. (2011). Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture. NYU Press. pp. 57-58. ISBN 978-0814791356

  • Shiah YJ, Wu YZ, Chen YH, Chiang SK. (2014). "Schizophrenia and the paranormal: More psi belief and superstition, and less déjà vu in medicated schizophrenic patients". Comprehensive Psychiatry 55: 688-92.

  • Raz, A., Hines, T., Fossella, J., & Castro, D. (2008). Paranormal experience and the COMT dopaminergic gene. A preliminary attempt to associate phenotype with genotype using an underlying brain theory. Cortex, 44: 1336-1341.

  • Pizzagalli D, Lehmann D, Gianotti L, Koenig T, Tanaka H, Wackermann J, Brugger P. "Brain electric correlates of strong belief in paranormal phenomena: intracerebral EEG source and regional Omega complexity analyses". Psychiatry Res. 2000 Dec 22; 100(3):139-54

  • Schulter, G. & Papousek, I. (2008). "Believing in paranormal phenomena: Relations to asymmetry of body and brain". Cortex, 44, 1326–1335.

  • Barry Singer and Victor A. Benassi. "Occult Beliefs: Media distortions, social uncertainty, and deficiencies of human reasoning seem to be at the basis of occult beliefs". American Scientist, Vol. 69, No. 1 (January–February 1981), pp. 49-55.

  • Kurtz, Paul. (2001). Skepticism and Humanism: The New Paradigm. Transaction Publisher. p. 63

  • Hines, Terence. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 38

  • "Smart People See Ghosts", Brad Steiger, Fate Magazine, April 2006, p. 52-56; the unusual thing found by Farha and Steward was that belief in the supernatural increased with education level, contrary to many other surveys. However, that aspect of their study is not being used here.

  • USA Today, 12 January 1994

  1. Independent Investigations Group. "Investigations". Retrieved 2012-04-11.

Further reading

  • Bell, V. & Halligan, P. W. (2012). "The Neural Basis of Abnormal Personal Belief". In F. Kruger and J. Grafman (eds) The Neural Basis of Human Belief Systems. Hove: Psychology Press.

  • Cohen, D. (1989). Encyclopedia of the Strange. Hippocrene Books. ISBN 978-0880294515

  • Crawley, S. E. (2001). "Psychic or fantasy-prone?" The Skeptic, 14(1), 11–12.

  • French, C. C. (1992) "Population stereotypes and belief in the paranormal: Is there a relationship?" Australian Psychologist, 27, 57-58.

  • French, C. C. (1992) "Factors underlying belief in the paranormal: Do sheep and goats think differently?" The Psychologist", 5, 295–299.

  • Hatton, K. (2001). "Developmental origins of magical beliefs". The Skeptic, 14(1), 18–19.

  • Hines, T. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books.

  • Holden, K. J., & French, C. C. (2002). "Alien abduction experiences: Clues from neuropsychology and neuropsychiatry". In Spence, S. A., & Halligan, P. W. (eds.) Pathologies of Body, Self and Space. Hove: Psychology Press. 163–178.

  • Irwin, H. (2009). The Psychology of Paranormal Belief: A Researcher's Handbook. University Of Hertfordshire Press. ISBN 978-1902806938

  • Jink, T. (2011). An Introduction to the Psychology of Paranormal Belief and Experience. Mcfarland. ISBN 978-0786465446

  • Lange, R., Houran, J. (1998). "Delusions of the paranormal: A haunting question of perception". Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 186 (10), 637–645.

  • Marks, D. F. (1988). "The psychology of paranormal beliefs". Experientia, 44, 332–337.

  • Stein, G. (1996). The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1573920216

  • Thalbourne, M. A. & French, C. C. (1995) "Paranormal belief, manic-depressiveness, and magical ideation: A replication". Personality and Individual Differences, 18, 291–292.

  • Wilson, K. & French, C. C. (2006). "The relationship between susceptibility to false memories, dissociativity, and paranormal belief and experience". Personality and Individual Differences, 41, 1493–1502.

  • Wiseman, R. & Watt, C. (2006). "Belief in psychic ability and the misattribution hypothesis: A qualitative review". British Journal of Psychology. 97, 323–338.

Magic (paranormal)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Magia" redirects here. For other uses, see Magia (disambiguation) and Magic (disambiguation).

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Part of a series on

Anthropology of religion

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

Social and cultural anthropology

Magic or sorcery is the use of rituals, symbols, actions, gestures and language that are believed to exploit supernatural forces.[1][2][3][4]

Modern Western magicians generally state magic's primary purpose to be personal spiritual growth.[5]

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 in present times.[6][7]

Magic is sometimes practiced in isolation and secrecy and often viewed with suspicion by the wider community.[4] In non-scientific societies, perceived magical attack is sometimes employed to explain personal or societal misfortune.[8]

The concept of magic, as distinct from religion was first widely recognized in Judaism, which defined the practices of pagan worship designed to appease and receive benefits from gods other than Yahweh as magic[2] (Wouter 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])

The foremost perspectives on magic in anthropology are functionalism, symbolism, and intellectualism.

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 consider magic 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 dates back to prehistoric religions and it can be found in early records such as the Egyptian pyramid texts and the Indian Vedas.[9]

Magic and religion are categories of beliefs and systems of knowledge used within societies. Some forms of shamanic contact with the spirit world seem to be nearly universal in the early development of human communities. They appear in various tribal peoples from Aboriginal Australia and Māori people of New Zealand to the Amazon, African savannah, and pagan Europe.

In general, the 20th century saw a sharp rise in public interest in various forms of magical practice and the foundation of traditions and organizations that can be regarded as religious or philosophies.


Common features of magical practice

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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" in that the language used in rituals is archaic and out of the ordinary. This he ascribes to the need for to create a mindset that fosters belief in the ritual.[10] However S. J. Tambiah notes that even if the power of the ritual is said to reside in the words, "[they] only become effective if uttered in the special context of other actions."[11]

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, a condition that parallels the felicity conditions J. L. Austin requires of performative utterances.[12] (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 support the unification of society. On the other hand, some psychologists compare such rituals to obsessive-compulsive rituals, noting that intentional focus falls on the lower level of representation of simple gestures.[13] which demotes the intended outcome as emphasis is placed more on the ritual process than on the connection between the ritual and the ultimate goal.

Magical symbols

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

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." He further categorized these principles as falling under "sympathetic magic" and "contagious magic" and asserted that these concepts were "general or generic laws of thought which were misapplied in magic."[14]

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, a classic example being the rooster that heralds the rising of the sun: when a rooster crows, it is a response to the sun's rising but this interpretation can be inverted if the observer believes in the law of similarity (which would suggest that it is a least possible the sunrise follows - or is caused by - the crowing of the rooster). In other words,[15] Causality is inferred where it might not otherwise have been.

In the mind of a magical practitioner it might seem causing the rooster to crow early, late or not at all will result in an ability to control the timing of the sunrise or stop it altogether. Another example 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.

An example given by Tambiah relates to adoption: among some American Indians 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,[16] thereby 'becomes' hers emotionally even though their relationship is not biological. As Claude Lévi-Strauss 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."[17]

Symbols, for many cultures that use magic, are seen as a type of technology: native peoples might use symbols and symbolic actions to bring about change and improvements in the same way as those from advanced cultures 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":[18] brought into contact with stem cuttings of plants like manioc before they are planted these powerful tangible symbols of fertility are believed by the Aguruna to transfer some of heir fertility to the plants.

Others argue that ritualistic actions are merely therapeutic, Tambiah citing 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."[19]

Magical speech is therefore a ritual act and is of equal or even greater importance to the performance of magic than non-verbal acts[20] but not all speech is considered magical, only certain words and phrases or words spoken in a specific context are considered to have magical power.[21]

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.[22] Magical language is therefore particularly adept at constructing metaphors that establish symbols and link magical rituals to the world.[23]

Malinowski argues that "the language of magic is sacred, set and used for an entirely different purpose to that of ordinary life"[24] the two forms (of language) being differentiated through word choice, grammar, style, or by the use of specific phrases or forms: spells, songs, blessings, or chants. 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 being cited as an example.[25]

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).[26][27]

In this respect, Tambiah argues that magical languages violate the primary function of language: communication.[28] 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."[25]


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.[29]

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.[30]

A variety of personal traits may be credited with giving magical power, and frequently they are associated with an unusual birth into the world.[31]

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 later applied to them by the Catholic Church under the influence of the alian Inquisition).[32]

Post-birth experiences are also be believed to convey magical power, and example being the 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.[33]

However the most commonly method of identifying, differentiating and establishing magical practitioners from common people is by initiation. By means of 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).[34]

Given the exclusivity of the criteria needed to become a magician, much magic is performed by specialists,[35] laypeople being limited to some simple magical rituals that relate to everyday living but in situations of particular importance, especially when health or major life events are concerned, a specialist magician will often be consulted.[36]

The powers of both specialist and common magicians are determined by culturally accepted standards of the sources and the breadth of magic: a magician cannot simply invent or claim new magic. In practice the magician is only as powerful as his peers believe him to be.[37]

In different cultures, various types of magicians may be classified on their abilities, their sources of power, on moral considerations and hence categorised as sorcerer, wizard, witch, healer et cetera.[citation needed]


Main article: Witchcraft

Witchcraft means the practice of, and belief in, magical skills and abilities that are able to be exercised individually, by designated social groups, or by persons with the necessary esoteric knowledge. In non-scientific societies, perceived magical attack is an idea sometimes employed to explain personal or societal misfortune.[8]

In anthropological and historical contexts this is often termed witchcraft or sorcery, and the perceived attackers "witches" or "sorcerers". Their maleficium - a term that applies to any magical act intended to cause harm or death to people or property - is often seen as a biological trait or an acquired skill.[38]

Known members of the community may be accused as witches, or the witches may be perceived as supernatural, non-human entities.[39] 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,[40] (The English term 'witch' being used, on occasion, as a purely descriptive term without its pejorative sense to describe such practitioners, and includes both male and female practitioners.[41])


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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.[42] 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[43] 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.[44][45]

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.[9]

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."[46]

Others, such as N. W. Thomas[47] 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".[48] 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."[49]

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,[50] 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."[51] 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.[52] 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."[53] 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[54] 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."[55] 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."[56]

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"[57] 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."[58] 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."[59]

Robin Horton

In "African Traditional Thought and Western Science,"[60] 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.[61]

  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.[62]

  3. "Common sense and theory have complementary roles in everyday life."[63] 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."[64] 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.[65]

  6. Theory is usually created by analogy between unexplained and familiar phenomena.[66]

  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".[67] 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 it was based.[68]

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.[69] 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.[70][71]


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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.[72]

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.[73]


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.[74]

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.[75][not in citation given]

The Greek mystery religions had strongly magical components,[citation needed] . A large number of magical papyri, in Greek, Coptic, and Demotic, have been recovered and translated.[76] 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


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]


Sorcery is a legal concept in Papua New Guinea law, which differentiates between legal good magic, such as healing and fertility, and illegal black magic, held responsible for unexplained deaths.[92]

In cultural contexts

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Animism and folk religion

An 1873 Victorian illustration of a "Ju-ju house" on the Gold Coast showing fetishized 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.[93][94]

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.[95] 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.[96]

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.[97][98]

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 saw 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.[99] 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.[100] Visualization techniques, for instance, widely used by magicians, are also used in somewhat different contexts in fields such as clinical psychology and sports training.[101]

Hypotheses of adherents

Further information: Occult science and Esoteric cosmology

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.[102]

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 "Abrahamic religions" in the Jewish era, hinting to the fork in the road, then the consequences that followed:

And when they got a messenger that is supporting to what they have, some of them abandoned the book they had as if they did not know; And they followed what the evilly-devolved/ablazed recite on the status of Solomon; but Solomon was granted this status for his worship, not like the evilly-devolved practices of ungratefulness as they teach people devilry and what was sourced to the two angels in the summit of Babel, Harut and Marut; and as they were teaching, they wouldn't except after explaining that they are a tryout, so don't be ungrateful; thus they are taught by them the process of how to separate the individual from his associative-half; further they can never hurt anyone with it but according to Allaah's determent; and they learn what hurts but does not benefit them, and they know that anyone who buys this has no remaining potency; and woe! to how they sold themselves; but if they knew. (Meanings see:Q 2:102)

Although it presents a generally forewarning attitude towards magic and its evolution, Muhammad was accused by his detractors of being a magician, because of his sound effect on those who heard him.[103] As one attempts to define what is meant by magic, the Qur'an distinguishes between apparent sorcery and devilry; further it discredits the mentality of those who take positions they are not entitled to!! Literally sorcery is the knowledge of angels: it is what is known as 'mother nature', and the knowledge sourced to Harut and Marut. The second form, usually known as 'witchcraft', is the magic that wide spreads amongst "al-shaya-teen". "Al-shayt-taan", coined, can be explained through two explanatory methods; the first exampled by Satan and how he became "Satan" upon his encounter with Adam, and all of those who follow his devolving path. The second approach, is the literal approach, epistemically referring to the two words that make up the basic word "shay-taan" which are: 'shayt' the energy provoking burn, and "taan" which is like the suffix of the word "sul-taan", implying compelling power. Many of the practices that have been reported as "shay-taan-nic", are mere protocols the evilly-devolved enforce amongst their circles whilst claiming their Solomon's protocols. Further, they would do this by removing keywords from scripture to redefine meanings.

The Arabic word translated in this passage as "magic" is word "sihr". The 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 "[104] Etymologically magic or '"sihr"' roots and connotes anything that is meta-physically supported. Magic, as a common terminology however, is used to describe appeal, and also to describe delusion; one can mean an ethereal form of attraction or beauty, or what is experienced through lies or provoked meta-causalities or contagions.

As Muslim evolved devolving into many different sects, their acknowledgment and definition of magic varied; however I would like to believe that Satanic alliances will never present themselves as interpretations finding platform in Muslim belief and societies! Some went on to explain that it was like the actor maintaining obedience depending upon the benevolence or malevolence of his practice. Malevolent magicians operated by enslaving the spirits through offerings and deeds displeasing to Allah. Apropos benevolent magicians, in contrast, obeyed and appeased Allah so that Allah exercised His will upon the spirits.[105] Al-Buni claims 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."[106]

However, not all Islamic groups accept this explanation of benevolent magic, considering it shamanic. On the other hand, some would go to extent of defining any blessing as "sorcery", and any abnormal "contagion" as witchcraft. Some Salafis view invoking many of these practices as shirk, denying that this is fully worshipping Allah, namely by turning to other meta-physical powers with reverence. Consequently, the Salafis renounce appellations to intermediaries such as saints, angels, and djinn, and renounce magic, fortune-telling, and divination.[107] This particular brand of magic has also been condemned as forbidden by a fatwa issued by Al-Azhar University.[108] 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!! However, 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 community notable or elder, or religious priest, maybe equal to the English title: 'Reverend!!'"[109] It is fair to say that scientifically observing a person would tell you if he is benevolently blessed or unusually aided/deluded/unhitched with other forms of magic. Islam in practice seizes to categorize except what is apparently observed; maintaining a disposition that religiosity is a matter of heart, as rituals and practices are properly observed, civility is upon government.

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,[110] 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.

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,[111] 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

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Occult portal


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  1. "Love Spells by Amaya". www.lovespells.us. Retrieved 12 May 2013.


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