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Magic - Magic, Religion, And Science, The Functions And Effects Of Magic In Classic Anthropological Works

refer acts harmful theories

Magic is the performance of acts or rites that are intended to influence a person, object, or event. It can also be performed to counter other magic. Magical acts or rites are usually performed with the assistance of mystical power. People who engage in the different activities magic encompasses can be called magicians, shamans, healers, sorcerers, or priests/priestesses. In some societies the knowledge required and the ability to perform magic are restricted to specialists who have undergone extensive training, while in other societies they are available to the common person and are learned as part of the enculturation process. In early-twenty-first-century anthropological discourse magic is generally considered to be a dimension of religious thought and practice and to be an aspect of culturally influenced understandings about causality, while in popular culture magic is often associated with superstition and used to refer to ideas and practices considered to be false and inferior. Divination is frequently identified with magic. It concerns the attempt to learn or discover information that is not accessible to most human beings through acts of skilled interpretation and the use of mystical power. The information discovered can be used to inform an act of magic but divination is not itself the act of influencing people, objects, or events.

Since the early twentieth century, scholars writing on magic have been interested in a variety of issues that concern its instrumental effects, social functions, psychological functions, symbolic attributes, and the forms of thought that characterize it. Their inquiries and theories have offered a range of ways to approach the study of magic, have made important contributions to the development of the disciplines of philosophy and anthropology, and continue to raise central questions about the limitations of language and culturally influenced perception in the interpretation of less familiar ideas and practices. The study of magic presents contemporary scholarship with a rich history on which to build theories of intersubjective understanding. An analysis of the intellectual and epistemological history of Western thought about magic reveals patterns of ethnocentrism. Awareness of these constructions offers the possibility of advancing methods of cross-cultural and cross-society comparison in addition to the creation of theories that more fully address the range of ideas and practices that can be considered in magic.

Vocabularies used to describe the practitioners, outcomes, and qualities of magic seem to gain popularity for certain periods of time, evolve in ways that reflect the concerns of particular disciplines, and come to be associated with specific geographic areas of the world. Witchcraft and sorcery, for example, have been used predominantly in the social sciences to refer to harmful or destructive uses of magic. Another example is the relatively limited use of the term shamanism in anthropological literature to practitioners of magic in Northern Europe and the Americas. In addition, shamanism assumes that magical acts can have both harmful and helpful consequences. Anthropological literature that concerns practitioners of magic in Africa has often relied on the term healing to refer to helpful magic, and witchcraft to refer to harmful magic. In an attempt to develop a more universal vocabulary and to avoid some of the topical and regional associations carried by the terms witchcraft and sorcery, some scholars prefer only to use the term magic.

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