Critical history of the war on sympathetic magic

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32 Responses to “Critical history of the war on sympathetic magic”

  1. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Believe me, unsympathetic magic is far nastier.

  2. efergus3 says:

    “Yngvi is a louse!”

  3. Cyran0 says:

    The Golden Bough: try it before you buy it!

    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3623

    Edit: Don’t forget to click-through from the link in the article if you do decide to purchase.

  4. Stephen Marts says:

    Amazing. I am so glad to see that Frazer’s work isn’t being forgotten.

    • Tim H says:

       It used to be my game to seek out sets of the Golden Boughs when I’d visit universities and had downtime to spend in the library.  At least five different schools and never did I encounter a complete set.

  5. billstewart says:

    Magic is still a significant malicious force in some parts of the world.  On one side, Sarah Palin has her Kenyan witch hunting friend Pastor Muthee and other superstitious and gullible people who are afraid of old women and strangers.  On another side, there are those South African witch doctors who use body parts from albinos and children as charms for their gullible superstitious customers.   Even though the magic itself is non-existent, the fear is real, and the violence it causes is real.

    That’s separate from your neopagan friends and mine, traditional shamans and newagey ayahuasca tourists around the world, Oprah’s favorite authors talking about “laws of attraction” you can find in their books, and whatever ceremonies Christine “Not a Witch” O’Donnell did with her high school boyfriend. 

    • Rickenbacker4001 says:

      Take a course on graphic design and logo’s. Lots of “magic”  still being used today. Heck, the advertising world is a malicious force of magic use.

  6. Charlie B says:

    I sort of hate to see Malleus Maleficarum in the same paragraph as The Golden Bough.

  7. humanresource says:

    Years ago, Viz Magazine invited readers to place their fingers on a big red dot and wish for Uri Geller to have piles. Uri Geller hasn’t confirmed if this worked, but I choose to believe that it did. It gives me hope.

  8. Dan Morrison says:

    The Golden Bough is my one “Desert Island Book”.

    *Do* get a copy and *do* dip into it.If you read past the (minimal) dated condescension, it’s a fantastic read. And you see the comparisons with {mainstream religion} that are clearly framed and identified by the author but left unsaid in every chapter.

    • Cyran0 says:

       Well, I guess you just took up my Saturday, my friend!

      A votre sante!

    • howaboutthisdangit says:

      It’s been on my “to read” list for quite a while.  It won’t be there for much longer.

    • Spam says:

      Anyone who reads this book or has an opinion about it without having read it should at least attempt to understand the times it was written in.  The author was walking on a fine line between ‘enlightened’ people thinking magic was silly and the  official churches taking it very seriously, indeed.  Hence the disclaimers you see in such works, even today.

      If you disbelieve in this kind of magic, send me one of your hairs and you will begin to understand.  The CIA studied magic, but they were such dumbo’s that their ineptness showed up on the front page as news of our wonderful central unintelligent agency.

      • scav says:

        On the other hand, if you believe in this kind of magic, send *me* one of your hairs plus $10 for postage and you will begin to understand.

        • fredh says:

          I’ll need all of the above, as well as your address and a tracing of your housekey on the letter. This is purely for magic. Also, the magic works better if you give me your work schedule. I assure you, you’ll be amazed at how I can make things dissappear.

      • C W says:

        “If you disbelieve in this kind of magic, send me one of your hairs and you will begin to understand.”

        I’m sure you can remote view me quivering in my boots.

        “The CIA studied magic”

        All aspects of the government did. The research led to jack shit magic-wise, but shaped our psychological warfare policy. I’m still sad at how the Men Who Stare at Goats book was adapted to film, the stupid fiction got in the way of the horrible reality.

    • Tim H says:

       But the Golden Boughs isn’t one book.  It grew to twelve in total (I think), with ridiculous people hinting there was a banned thirteenth book because of stuff HPL-influenced writers wrote.  Watch as I make spooky hand gestures and talk in a spooky voice:  “Thiiiiirttteeeenthh boooook”.

  9. NikFromNYC says:

    A related book is simply called ‘Envy’ and details more ancient history in which neighbors blamed good luck on playing favorites with various spirits such that Leonardo types were basically killed so often that progress was rather slow for thousands of years.

    • ocker3 says:

       So That’s where Australia’s Tall Poppy syndrome comes from, we’re all worried that successfull people are following Dante’s example!

    • Saltine says:

      From the title/thesis, I thought we might be dealing with a Fans of John Galt type work, so I looked it up. The US publisher is a right-libertarian group that sponsors right-wing conferences. The author, Helmut Schoeck, is one of those Austrian libertarian types from the 40s-50s, who was a “center-left” figure in the 60s, meaning, in US terms, on the right.

      Anyway, just offering the results of my quick research to save anyone else a trip. The book’s meritocratic thesis sounds interesting, but I greet it with the same suspicion that I greet most meritocratic arguments these days, as a justifier for the inequalities of the status quo. I’d like to read it and be proven wrong, though.

  10. There’s a book that delves deeply into the sympathetic magic background of some of the Ten Commandments, such as “do not covet,” which probably had something to do with the evil eye, a fear that simply “wanting” something that belonged to another would magically bring harm upon that other person.  http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/lewis/lewten0c.htm

  11. mesocosm says:

    I’m a bit surprised but also gratified to see so many sympathetic comments regarding Frazer’s book. I would have liked the author of the Lapham’s piece to spend just a bit more time looking at the revolutionary nature of the book, which remains central to the scientific study of comparative religions, folklore and mythology.

    Frazer had the courage (in his first edition, at least) to put the Christ myth side-by-side with dozens of similar stories of death and resurrection, and to suggest that the wide distribution of these stories is a phenomenon which bares scientific analysis. The Christ myth, in other words, is one story among many similar stories, not necessarily THE story.

    This great advancement in human thought helped transform the way myths and religions were studied, so that they could be examined with respect to their narrative, historical and psychological character, and not solely evaluated on theological grounds.

    This shift in perspective has played an important role in loosening the dominance of the Christian religious viewpoint on academic culture.

    • Wreckrob8 says:

      There is a finality to the Christian story of death and resurrection, which is absent from other traditions (but maybe I am wrong). A Christian would claim that the death and resurrection of Christ makes a clean break with the past – at most previous traditions paved the way for Christ. The Church is not necessarily wrong.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        There is a finality to the Christian story of death and resurrection, which is absent from other traditions (but maybe I am wrong).

        Resurrection gods are not uncommon, such as Osiris. I myself am planning to emerge from the Nile soon. SOON.

      • Tim H says:

         Yeah, there’s about a million resurrection stories which is exactly why we need comparative anthropology texts, to point this stuff out.  Osiris, like Antinous said, is a good one but the Dionysus stuff is even better.  I think.

        • Wreckrob8 says:

          Yeah. Christianity is a temporary but necessary aberration. Essentially the death and resurrection of the saviour is the loss of the partially developed and return of the fully developed natural human ability to see the relationship between different stories and their evolutionary function in motivating human progress, ideologically, psychologically and neurologically. The disagreements between magic, religion and science are actually more imagined than real.

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