1-14 of 14 Results

  • Keywords: magic x
Clear all

Article

Early Modern Literature and the Occult  

Rachel White

The occult has been a source of fascination for writers and scholars over the centuries. It is often associated with magic, the macabre, spectacle, the diabolical, and the unknown, but it also encompasses aspects of science and new understandings of the world. The occult shadows the boundaries of legitimate and illegitimate knowledge, belief, and practice. The word “occult” comes from the Latin occultus meaning secret or hidden, though it became associated with esoteric knowledge and magic during the early modern period. Those who sought out new knowledge needed to frame their work within legitimate boundaries, and curiosity needed to be curtailed to avoid excessive intellectual inquiry. Printing enhanced the circulation of occult ideas, and contemporary writers such as Agrippa became representative of the early modern occult tradition as well as the more ancient sources such as the hermetic texts. Indeed, the critical history of the occult also bears out its varied role in the early modern period in terms of its extremes and indeterminate nature. Fascination with the secret and hidden provides perfect material for writers and scholars. Writers of the early modern period exploited the gap between legitimate knowledge and the perceived nefarious, illegitimate practices of individuals. The trope of the overreaching figure, encapsulated in Doctor Faustus, provided spectacle as well as a moral lesson, while the hidden qualities of words and signs added an extra dimension to any performance: would those hidden qualities be accidently unleashed by the actors? The theater played upon the occult as spectacle but was also prepared to parody it as figures such as John Dee are recognizably caricatured and referred to in plays of the period. Magi and powerful figures with knowledge of the occult also occupy prominent positions in prose and poetry. Like its theatrical counterpart, writers of printed works were also wary of the power of signs and written words to be harnessed by their readers. The debates around the occult are wide-ranging and encompassing of different beliefs and practices, from what 21st-century readers might recognize as scientific to the magical, beliefs and practices that were contemporaneously coded as legitimate and illegitimate.

Article

carmen  

Peta G. Fowler and Don P. Fowler

Carmen, from cano (?), “something chanted,” a formulaic or structured utterance, not necessarily in verse. In early Latin the word was used especially for religious utterances such as spells and charms: the laws of the *Twelve Tables contained provisions against anyone who chanted a malum carmen, “evil spell” (Plin. HN 28.2.18). Carmen became the standard Latin term for song, and hence poem (sometimes especially lyric and related genres1), but the possibilities of danger and enchantment inherent in the broader sense continued to be relevant, and there is often play on the different senses (see e.g. Ov. Met. 7. 167).

Article

Tantra in South Asia  

Hugh B. Urban

Tantra is historically one of the most important but also most often misunderstood, understudied, and poorly defined currents within the Hindu and Buddhist traditions of South Asia. Widely dismissed by European Orientalist scholars and Christian missionaries as a degenerate form of black magic and debauchery, Tantra has been embraced by contemporary popular and New Age audiences as a liberated path of sensual pleasure and sexual freedom. While it has been defined in many different ways by modern scholars, Tantra has played a central but often ambivalent role in South Asian religious, social, and political history. In the 21st century, Tantra remains an important though often misunderstood religious presence, both in the few surviving Tantric lineages of South Asia and in the various popular forms of tantra-mantra (in India) and “Neo-Tantra” (in Europe, England, and North America).

Article

Magical Practice  

Timothy de Waal Malefyt

The word “magic” refers to a broad range of beliefs and practices that include animism, charm(s), divination, enchantment, fantasy, fetish, glamour, illusion, miracles, the occult, shamanism, sorcery, spells, the supernatural, superstition, taboos, trickery, and witchcraft. Magic―once thought a core feature of “primitive societies,” abandoned by more rational, bureaucratic and progressive beliefs―is, in fact, thriving in contemporary life, and central to practices of capitalism as well as to everyday behaviors. Magic is practiced in fields of finance, government, law, medicine and health, technology, advertising, marketing, sports, the gaming industry, and theatrical performances, among other institutions. When situations allow for the assemblage of a “magician,” “rite,” and “representation” within these complex social networks and when professional skills, ideas, conditions, contexts, media, and meanings align, magic acts as an agent of change. Magic is also practiced in everyday situations in which people need to feel a sense of control in circumstances where it’s lacking, such as performing well under competitive conditions or during times of crisis with indefinite outcomes. Consequently, they rely on magical thinking—in the forms of superstitions, wishful thinking, and taboo avoidance—which is often accompanied by charms, amulets, or acts of faith to guide them through uncertainty. Conjuring terms such as “fate” and “luck” to ward off illness or improve one’s chances at getting a hit in baseball, are, in fact, ways of expressing ambiguities and dealing with conflicts of temporal existence that all humans face in one form or another. Magic structured in institutions and practiced in everyday situations is a prime example of contradiction in contemporary life. Objective knowledge of facts is increasingly understood as contingent rather than permanent, leaving room for uncertainty, mystery, the unknown, and seemingly nonrational alternatives. Scientific evidence becomes as valid as alternative facts. Documenting recent developments, it is suggested that rationality and magic are not mutually exclusive. Rather, rational behaviors and practices are suffused with magic. Magical beliefs and specific rituals complement practical knowledge so as to enhance knowledge as a way to secure success. All of these ways of thinking and social practices have something at stake, in that risk, uncertainty, and ambiguity of outcome are prevalent, and hence call on magical practices to bring about change.

Article

Magic in the Graeco-Roman World  

Korshi Dosoo

Magic in the Graeco-Roman world is a disputed concept among modern historians, whose interpretation has changed significantly over the last 200 years of study. In studying it we may either focus on terms from ancient languages translatable as “magic,” or examine materials and practices that may be classified as “magic” according to modern definitions. Ancient terminology centers around terms such as the Greek word mageia, and its Latin cognate magia, referring to superhuman practices that often involved the manipulation of the natural and divine worlds through secret knowledge and ritual. Objects identified by modern scholars as magical include curse tablets, written objects intended to injure, bind, or render harmless their victims, magical handbooks written on papyrus, providing instructions for rituals, and amulets, often in the form of semiprecious stones inscribed with images of deities and short texts. While some of these practices are reflected in ancient literary sources discussing magic, literary texts also show an exaggerated discourse, in which magic-users may be stereotyped according to their ethnicity (exotic magicians from Egypt, Syria, or Judaea) or gender (lurid images of witches), and practices are depicted as fantastical and extreme, involving acts such as human sacrifice. Popular images of magic and actual practice come together in laws and regulations against magic and its users, primarily from the period of the Roman Empire. These may be in the form of imperial law, or else Christian and non-Christian cultic rules, which prescribe social exclusion or even death, so that accusations of magic could be a potent tool in social conflicts.

Article

magic, Roman  

Richard Gordon

Roman religion has conventionally been understood as a civic or “polis” religion in which the population performed the same rituals, attended the same festivals, and believed in the same divinities, an image conveyed by the extant Roman historians (including the Greek Polybius) and the antiquarian tradition. This convention has successfully obscured the fact that the range of religious activities in the City, to say nothing of the surrounding areas of central Italy, was in reality always far wider. More neutrally, we may view the religious field at Rome as a site of constant, if intermittent, conflict over effective means of relating to the other world and the legitimate use of religious knowledge, conflict that parallels in a different key the disputes over proper religious observance that took place within the ruling elite itself and its various priestly colleges. If the larger category of dismissal was superstition, the narrower and still more negative one was magical practice. There were however several sub-classes here, of which witchcraft and sorcery were but two. Over the thousand years of knowable Roman history, which saw a single city extend its political and extractive reach to a maximum of 4.4 megametres and then decline, the understanding of magic as malign (i.e., witchcraft/sorcery) altered in often dramatic ways, beginning with anxieties typical of agrarian communities, and culminating in Late Antiquity in charges of lese-majesty at court and routinized attempts at revenge by rival rhetors, to which we can add the deployment of allegations of magic by Christian hardliners in attacking paganism and heretics. A significant process in this history was the gradual appropriation over the last hundred and fifty years of the Republic of a term (magia) and its associated stereotypes from the Hellenistic Greek world, which together provided a medium, widely exploited in a variety of literary genres, for re-figuring the social disruptions that attended the violent self-destruction of the aristocratic régime and remained thereafter a powerful imaginative resource for constructing a variety of boundaries around a moral centre, claimed to be steady but in fact altering very considerably under shifting political, social, and religious conditions.

Article

Speculative Fiction and Queer Theory  

Wendy Gay Pearson

Speculative fiction, like queer, can be an umbrella term; it can cover any writing in which reality is not mimetically represented. In other words, speculative fiction is a fuzzy set whose boundaries are permeable, capacious, and capable of definition and redefinition by readers and writers alike. The set includes science fiction, fantasy, horror, the Gothic, and most or all magic realist writing. Because of its focus on spaces and times that have not (yet) happened, may never happen, and may, indeed, be impossible, speculative fiction as a supergeneric category leaves open a great deal of room for queerness in all its forms. Queer theory illuminates depictions of sexuality, gender, and their intersectionalities as they are represented in speculative fictions of all kinds. In doing so, it traces several specific queer theoretical interventions, including: questions of queer representation; histories in which queer representation has been suppressed; queer dismantling of all types of normativity; queer theorizing about intimacy, kinship, reproduction, and family; questions of posthumanism and the queering of embodiment and/through technology; and issues of queer time versus the power of chrononormativity to reinforce assumptions about linear time and “normal” life. Speculative fiction is a powerful medium for both queer readers and queer writers because it empowers narratives, characters, and/or settings that disrupt the many ways in which dominant assumptions about race, gender, and sexuality are produced by, and in turn reinforce, colonial aspirations and expectations. Some speculative fiction may be dystopian, but some speculative fiction may also read the past reparatively in order to imagine more hopeful worlds.

Article

Archaeology of Ancient Religions  

Caitlín E. Barrett

Archaeology is essential to the cross-cultural study of religion. Archaeologists’ focus on material evidence enables them to investigate groups not represented or underrepresented in textual traditions, including non-literate societies and non-elite members of literate societies. Accordingly, archaeology provides a broad comparative lens and longue durée perspective, as well as a means to study the practices of individuals across the social spectrum. Additionally, a disciplinary emphasis on material culture and human-thing relationships enables archaeologists to investigate the materiality of ancient religious traditions—the entanglement of ancient beliefs and practices within the material world. Because every stage of the archaeological process involves interpretation and theorization, archaeologists’ theoretical stances and methodological choices shape the data they obtain. For example, any discussion of the “archaeology of religion” will be shaped by the author’s (explicit or implicit) operational definition of “religion” itself (see Part I, “Considering ‘Religion’ and ‘Ritual’”). Modern Western constructions of “religion” involve culturally specific concepts that developed within particular historical contexts, and ancient people’s understandings of their beliefs, rituals, and objects may often have employed quite different analytical categories. Additionally, archaeological approaches to ancient religions have undergone significant transformation over the 20th and early 21st centuries (see Part II, “History of the Field”). In contrast to the “New Archaeology” of the 1960s–1970s, which portrayed religion as epiphenomenal and downplayed its significance as a primary generator of social change, late-20th-century movements brought renewed attention to ancient symbolism, ideology, and religion and encouraged scholars to seek methodologically rigorous ways to study ancient religion and ritual. The third section of the article (“Current Perspectives and Developments”) examines contemporary research on the archaeology of religion and analyzes the field’s intersections with, and importance to, broader interdisciplinary debates. Today, a proliferation of new scholarship on the archaeology of ancient religions explores the complex interactions between people, objects, and ideas in antiquity. Within the resulting range of new and ongoing developments, this article emphasizes (1) a productive engagement with the broader “material turn” in the humanities and social sciences; (2) a renewed emphasis on religion as a causal force for social change; and (3) an increasing focus on religion’s embeddedness within daily life, entailing the reconsideration of analytical categories such as “domestic cult,” “personal religion,” and “magic.” The contemporary archaeological study of ancient religions is a deeply multidisciplinary endeavor, frequently requiring archaeologists to engage with theories, methods, and specialists from fields that may include anthropology, religious studies, archaeometry, art history, philology, and more. Archaeologists not only generate empirical data about specific sites or cultures, but also investigate broader intellectual questions concerning the role of religion in society, the importance of material culture to religious experience, and the forms of agency wielded by both humans and objects. The archaeology of religion thus has important contributions to make to numerous subjects and debates throughout the humanities and social sciences.

Article

Magic and the Occult in Martin Luther’s World  

Kathryn A. Edwards

In the 15th- and early-16th-century German-speaking lands, reports circulated of spirits shaking the walls of houses, comets presaging imminent doom, and dwarves warning miners to leave their tunnels. Widely accepted, such accounts point to a worldview in which the natural was believed to encompass a far broader swath of beings and activities than modern definitions of the term. Humans were enmeshed in a world where forces beyond human experience and, at times understanding, were active; they accepted their place in it and manipulated it, if necessary. When studying such attitudes and the practices surrounding them, scholars of late medieval and early modern religious movements must move beyond truisms about “magical” or “enchanted” worlds to understand the impulses driving both reformers and those they wished to reform. Certainly 15th- and 16th-century Germans accepted that the divine permeated all creation, as creation was a product of God, and they saw divine manifestations throughout their world. Based on this truism, scholars have debated the extent to which pre-modern Europe was an enchanted world for approximately a century. Yet the powers imbuing that world had a more complex relationship to divinity than the somewhat romantic connotations of “enchanted” found in various modern works. Magicians, witches, devils, and other entities were all created beings who could access powers beyond the normal ken but were certainly not divine, despite any claims they might make to the contrary. Because such powers were imbued into nature itself, they were accessible to ordinary humans as well. And access them humans did! They were invoked to protect a village, cure ill children, and ward off injuries to livestock. They could also be used for evil, and archival and print documents attest to the practice of maleficent or demonic magic by learned clergy and illiterate peasants alike. When Protestant reformers demanded recognition of God’s omnipotence, they implicitly condemned this applied, occult magic and, in the process, practices that reflected a complete cosmology, that is, an understanding of how this world and the heavens operated. In this circumstance, it is not surprising that even the early reformers themselves could seem reluctant to abandon this immanent occultism.

Article

Sexuality and Black Magic in Brazil  

Kelly E. Hayes

Belief in the power of feitiçaria or black magic has both endured and continually changed over time in Brazil. However, black magic is a peculiar and protean thing. Rather than defining a specific set of ideas, practices, and objects, or a systematic body of knowledge, black magic is better understood as a type of discourse the social function of which is to stigmatize its referent as maleficent, immoral, or evil. Because of its negative connotations, black magic typically is a discourse of accusation rather than self-affirmation: People accuse others of practicing black magic rather than describing their own practices this way. Nevertheless, the dangerous potential attributed to black magic means that some people openly claim it as a source of power in certain circumstances. Focusing on the various intersections of black magic and sexuality in Brazilian history reveals aspects of social life and categories of persons that elite authorities, in the effort to civilize and reform Brazil, identified as problematic. Because these shifted over time, different constellations of black magic and sexuality emerge as especially salient in different historical periods. In the colonial period (1549–1822), women’s love magic troubled ecclesiastical authorities as the Catholic Church struggled to establish its patriarchal vision of social and moral order over an unruly colony. Under the empire (1822–1889), black magic was associated particularly with the threat of black sorcerers whose perceived promiscuity and primitivity threatened the civilized society that elites envisioned. During the first Republican period (1889–1930), public officials used black magic as a catchall designation for a broad range of popular spiritual practices deemed illicit by the state in its struggle against social degeneracy and other ills. The first few decades of the 20th century saw the consolidation of the Afro-Brazilian spirit entities Exu and Pombagira as distinctive apotheoses of black magic and sexuality in the Brazilian cultural imagination. Forged in the conjuncture of African and European traditions, these controversial yet extremely popular entities are said to work with both the “right hand” and the “left hand” and are called upon in situations marked by moral ambiguity. Their prominence in Candomblé and Umbanda is one reason that evangelical Protestant churches like the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD) consider Afro-Brazilian religions to be instruments of the devil and target Afro-Brazilian religious practitioners, objects, and spaces in their campaigns of spiritual warfare. More recently, discourse about black magic among evangelical Christians has centered on the violence and sexual immorality associated with the drug trade that has flourished in many Brazilian cities. As a moral discourse that defines the licit by identifying the illicit, black magic is used in situations marked by struggles for social legitimacy and the access to resources and influence that such legitimacy enables. The protean nature of black magic means that it is endlessly adaptable to different social realities, from the struggles of Portuguese colonists in a new land to the urban violence associated with contemporary drug trafficking. And because questions of power are deeply embedded within the term, accusations of black magic seem to burgeon precisely in moments of social transformation when the status quo is in flux, centers of influence are being formed, and new patterns of social division or alignment are being established.

Article

medicine, Egyptian  

Hans-W. Fischer-Elfer

First attested indirectly in the 3rd millennium bce, then in the early 2nd millennium in terms of medical handbooks, and then in the early Roman Period (2nd century ce), Egyptian medicine displays a broad range of topics and treatments. Its textual corpus can be divided into veterinarians and gynaecological and general diagnoses and prescriptions pertaining to men and women alike. By drawing on analogies from the natural world, healing procedures were expected to transfer properties, for example, from the realm of minerals, plants, and animals, to the patient and restore his or her former healthy condition.

Specialization, starting with dentistry, ophthalmology, pharmacology and veterinary medicine attest to a high degree of professional education and practice in the 3rd millennium. Any generalizing term for the art of medicine is unknown; names of individuals involved in it are known to us from either autobiographical inscriptions or documentary texts from everyday life. In many cases, magical incantations and rituals went along with the “medical” treatments. Medicine and magic cannot be separated from each other in ancient Egypt.

Article

Witchcraft in Colonial Latin America  

Nicole von Germeten

The European ideas associated with witchcraft came to the Americas as a multipronged weapon of imperialism, a conception of non-Christian beliefs not as separate worldviews but as manifestations of evil and the reigning power of the devil over Indigenous peoples and, slightly later, African slaves and free people of African origins or heritage. To create this imperialist concept, colonizers drew from a late medieval demonological literature that defined witchcraft as ways of influencing one’s fate through a pact with the devil and the ritual of witches’ sabbaths. Through the court structure of the Holy Offices of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, Iberian imperialists set up judicial processes that they designed to elicit confessions from their colonial subjects regarding their involvement in what was labeled witchcraft and witches’ sabbaths, but which was most likely either non-European beliefs and practices, or even popular European ideas of healing. Archival documents from the Holy Office fueled Europeans’ vision of themselves as on the side of cosmic good as well as providing some details regarding popular practices such as divination and love magic. Whatever ethnographic details emerge from this documentation, the use of the terminology of witchcraft always signals an imperialistic lens.

Article

Getty Hexameters, the  

Roy D. Kotansky

The “Getty Hexameters” represent a “cluster” of verse incantations written on a small, folded piece of lead epigraphically and historically dateable to the end of the 5th century. Found in clandestine operations most probably at Selinous (Σελινοῦς, modern Selinunte), in Sicily, the fragmentary text came to the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu, California) in 1981 as the gift of Dr. Max Gerchik, along with four other lead pieces of certain Selinuntine provenance, including the large Lex Sacra from Selinous (= SEG XLIII.630, c. 475–450 bce) and three early defixiones, or curse tablets (Kotansky and Curbera, 2004).After the lead fragments were joined and restored by Mark B. Kotansky in 1981, Roy D. Kotansky independently transcribed and deciphered the text at that time and eventually published a preliminary edition in 2011 with David R. Jordan, an expert on lead defixiones, who provided his own supplements, notes, and translation (Jordan and Kotansky, 2011).

Article

Religion in Ancient Greece  

Ivana Petrovic

Ancient Greek religion was a polytheistic religion without a book, church, creed, or a professional priestly class. Due to the extraordinarily rich regional varieties in cult, fragmentary evidence and conjectural interpretations of it, conflicting mythological accounts, and the span of time treated, not a single absolute statement can be made about any aspect of Greek religion and exceptions exist for every general rule stated here. Since Ancient Greeks perceived all aspects of nature as either divine or divinely controlled, and all aspects of individual and social life were thought to be subject to supernatural influence, paying proper respect to the gods and heroes was understood to be a fundamental necessity of life. Since no aspect of individual or social life was separate from “religion,” scholars refer to Ancient Greek religion as “embedded.”1 The closest Ancient Greek comes to the English word “religion” are the noun thrēskeia (“acts of religious worship, ritual, service of gods”) and the verb thrēskeuō (“to perform religious observances”). Basic components of religious worship were the construction and upkeep of divine precincts, statues, altars, and temples, the observance of festivals, performance of sacrifices, bloodless offerings and libations, prayer, hymning, and observance of ritual abstinences and purifications. The closest Greek equivalents to “belief” were eusebeia (“reverent piety,” “respect”) and pistis (“trust in others” or “faith”).2 Both words could qualify a relationship between humans, as well as a relationship between humans and a supernatural entity. Since the Ancient Greeks did not have authoritative or divinely sent books of revelation, there was no script telling them what or whom to believe in and outlining the reasons why. The Greeks did not have professional priests who preserved, interpreted, and disseminated religious norms.3 However, Greek literature is brimming with gods, and the stories about the gods, which they (and we) call “myths,” were not only in all their texts, but everywhere around them: depicted on their pottery, painted on their walls, chiseled on the stones of their buildings.4 In the public space, there were countless divine statues, and the temples, altars, sacred groves, and divine precincts were everywhere around them. Ancient Greeks learned about the gods by hearing, watching, and doing: by seeing their parents perform a sacrifice, by observing them as they prayed, swore an oath, or performed libations, by participating in processions, singing and dancing in the chorus, eating the sacrificial meat in the sanctuaries, and by drinking wine, the gift of Dionysus. Ancient Greeks had no immediate need for theodicy, for the gods could be either benevolent, or angry, and their benevolence was perceived as a sign that the worship the community offered was appropriate, whereas natural catastrophes, crippling defeats in wars, or epidemics were interpreted as manifestations of divine anger, provoked by some human error or misstep.5 Ancestral gods and heroes and the traditional way of worshipping them formed the cornerstone of Greek religiosity.