1 HPSC3014. Lecture 4. Anthropological and Religious Approaches to Magic.
Belief and the efficacy of magic.
Anthropological studies have shown that strong belief in the efficacy of magic can lead to certain phenomena occurring which reinforce that belief in magic. Given the occurrence of such phenomena, it is then argued, a belief in magic cannot be irrational. Of particular note here is the witchdoctor‟s
death curse. When it is pronounced, it is believed by all the tribe and by the cursed that that person is doomed. That person is then ostracised by the tribe, believing themselves to be without hope and doomed the cursed then gives up active life, and duly dies. Thus a belief in magic is perpetuated. A particularly important case, as the victim of the curse cannot be accused of feigning the results ! This also has important implications for our attitude to modern medicine, which might be felt to treat the body in a purely mechanical manner, and for our attitude to explaining and debunking faith healers who claim special powers, if this phenomenon can be explained physiologically.
Kuhn and incommensurability.
Thomas Kuhn (see his The Structure of Scientific revolutions and/ or The Copernican Revolution) has advanced a thesis about the development of science. From a state of pre-science, a first theory is formed which becomes the first scientific orthodoxy (such as the geocentric theory). Such a theory is known as a paradigm, and all scientific work done within this paradigm is known as normal science. When this theory gradually runs into trouble, being unable to explain new findings, a revolutionary period occurs. A new theory then emerges, and all normal science is then done within this new paradigm (the geocentric theory cannot explain new findings, there is the Copernican revolution, the heliocentric theory emerges as the new paradigm). Thus science does not progress in a linear manner, but leaps to radically new theories, which bear little relation to the previous theory. According to Kuhn these paradigms are incommensurable. What Kuhn wants to object to here is the notion that as there is a gradual increase in the data available, theories become gradually better, each theory improving slightly on the last. Rather, there is occasionally a radical theory change where the new theory cannot be seen as a development of the old one, as in the move from geo- to heliocentrism. Kuhn‟s work has been put to two ends by sociologists and anthropologists. Some have taken it to be an argument for relativism, the view that no theory is any better than any other theory, as science seems to leap from theory to theory. Kuhn explicitly denies this in later work; he believes that science makes progress and that successive theories are better at least in the sense of their problem solving ability. The second development of Kuhn‟s work is the transference of the notion of
the incommensurability of paradigms to the question of the relation of cultures and languages. That is that cultures, and some languages, are held to be incommensurable in the same way that Kuhn suggests that paradigms are. The implication drawn is that we from the viewpoint of our paradigm/ culture cannot properly understand any other paradigm/ culture. There are several points against such an approach. Firstly, this is not what Kuhn meant by incommensurability. While some new scientific theories may be so radically different that they cannot be seen as a development of previous theories, that does not mean we cannot understand those theories. Thus if such a view is to be justified, it must be done in some other way than appealing to Kuhn‟s philosophy of science.
Secondly, such an approach would sabotage research and any notion of progress in intercultural understanding, and as Putnam has argued, it is incoherent to say that an idea is utterly incommensurable in this sense with any of our own and then go on to describe that idea. Thirdly, Kuhn‟s views are by no means universally accepted, and many would argue that his scheme of normal science and revolutions with accompanying paradigms is too crude to apply to all aspects of the History of Science with sufficient subtlety.
Common basis of thought approach.
One approach to anthropology is the search for features of thinking which are common to all human beings. Horton argues that it is common among all humans to attempt to look for ways in which to draw our experiences in to some sort of order. According to Horton, magic is the means by which that is done in traditional African thought, science how it is done in the West. Thus science and magic are merely alternative ways of ordering our experience. One can argue for an isomorphism of how science, magic and religion are structured and how they function in any given society, and so that there are large elements of continuity between different modes of human thought. One might point to similarities in authority, hierarchy, dress, secrecy, initiation and comprehensibility of explanation to the layman in science, magic and religion. If all this is so, then it becomes difficult to criticise magical practices from a scientific viewpoint. However, one might well argue that the distinctive feature of science is its assumptions about the ordered and uniform nature of the universe.
2 HPSC3014. Lecture 4. Anthropological and Religious Approaches to Magic.
So far, western intellectual tradition. What of other cultures ? Anthropologists have studied magical
beliefs in tribal societies - the findings might be used to challenge the view put forward. Magical =
Continuity in underlying thought.
There is a great deal of continuity between the thought of a tribe that believes in spiritual magic and
western scientific thinking. People have argued this for various reasons. Some people have argued it
with a specific agenda.
View of basic (common) human nature.
View that there are patterns of thought that are common among all human beings and the task is to
uncover what these are. Various views, e.g. Freud - id, ego, superego. So the key is to see what is
common between tribal magical thought and western scientific thought. Question about whether there
is a great difference between the two, or more radically, whether there is, at root, any fundamental
difference between the types of thought involved.
Anthropologist Levi-Strauss did some interesting work in discovering just what tribes believed.
Argues that the magical world view adopted, though radically different to our own, has its own
internal coherence and appears to have some empirical success too. Now, although ways of moving
within that world view are strange to us, there are discernible decision making processes.
Witchdoctor’s curse. The key case of success is the death curse of the witchdoctor - the witchdoctor will say that someone
is now cursed, and that they will die. What Levi-Strauss found was that without any external
interference at all, that person would die. Tough case - sometimes accomplice is helping out the
magician; if they faint or claim visions, one might quite rightly be somewhat sceptical. Another matter
when the accomplice actually dies.
This doesn‟t go as far as to challenge our scientific view of the world. There are very strong notions
of bonding, belonging and kinship in these societies. When cursed, that person is then shunned by
everyone in his tribe. He is an internal outcast; he stays with the tribe, but is excommunicated, if you
like. The cursed person has a very strong belief in magic, and the curse. They believe that they are
going to die, believe that this is utterly inevitable. They lose all hope and all interest in life, and
literally just curl up in a corner and wait to die.
Physiological basis. Studies have been done on the relation between the beliefs and longevity of terminally ill patients.
Those who believe they will live last significantly longer than those who believe they will not survive.
Placebo effect - those given control pills in experiments (do not contain the mediciation) often show
the same signs of improvement as those people with the medication. Well known effect, sometimes
exploited by GPs - give the patient somehting and they may well get better, even if that medicine (i.e.
two aspirins) is not a clinical cure for what ails the patient.
Basis for belief in magic.
Key point that needs to be drawn from this though is that the magic of the curser seems to be very
powerful to those who believe in such powers. Can their belief in such powers, given such success,
be irrational ?
For modern medicine. Seems to be a critical point for western medicine. Since C17, tendency to see the body as a
mechanism - very complex, but still mechanical. Goes very deep in western medical thinking.
Treated as such - analogy to a car - we repair accident damage, replace worn parts, balance the fluid
levels. Note psychology - use of surgery, ECT, drugs. Purely passive process - ignores mind of
patient. Studies now show attitude of patient critical. This why faith healing „appears‟ to work when
faith has been lost in doctors to do the job. Difference between persuasive faith healer and
persuasive car salesman ?
3 HPSC3014. Lecture 4. Anthropological and Religious Approaches to Magic. Fraudulent witch doctors ?
Cure for disease – place a small stone in your mouth, or a few small feathers.
With appropriate ritual, suck at the suppose site of the disease.
Spit out stone or feathers, perhaps with blood generated from biting a small wound in your mouth/
Declare that the disease has been removed and the patient is now well.
Outright fraud ?
Or does the witch doctor believe something symbolic is being enancted in order to generate magic ?
If patient recovers, good empirical evince of efficacy ?
Patient may dream of healer so choosing the correct witch doctor.
Again, may be strong placebo effect, especially within a strong tribal society and the help of
dreaming of your healer as well.
Thomas Kuhn Kuhn‟s work has been used by anthropologists to support certain theories, notably
that there is such a difference between our culture and others that we cannot properly understand
those cultures. They can, if you like, only be understood from the inside, in their own language. If that
is so, then it obviously has important consequences for the relation of science and magic.
Developmental account. Pre-science - normal science (paradigm 1) - crisis - revolution - normal
science (paradigm 2)
Kuhn on scientific development.
Pre-science No theories as yet No paradigm Babylonia
? ? ? ?
Normal A theory becomes dominant. First paradigm Greeks - geocentric cosmos
? ? ? ?
Crisis Dominant theory in trouble Crisis Problems with geocentrism
? ? ? ? Revolution New theories are proposed. Competing Copernicus - heliocentrism
? ? ? ?
Normal A new theory becomes New paradigm Heliocentrism becomes
science dominant orthodox
Key notion - paradigms are incommensurable. No way one can hold both of them together. They are,
if you like, two completely different world views who never touch.
Kuhn disputes that science progresses by a gradual accumulation of data and a gradual improvement
of theories. I.e. theory 2 10% more accurate than theory 1. There are radical jumps and theories
cannot be compared in this way - they are incommensurable. Technical meaning of
incommensurable - not comparable in terms of number. Important to understand and remember that.
Use and mis-use of Kuhn.
Relativism - science leaps from one theory to another, no reason to favour one theory. Kuhn no
truck with this view - science progresses.
The notion of incommensurabilty has been taken to apply to cultures and some languages. Idea is
that other cultures are so radically different from ours that we cannot understand them; they are
incommensurable with our own culture. Thus we cannot criticise magical beliefs from our own
paradigm - they are incommensurable theories. We derive support from this because this is what
philosophy of science tells us.
4 HPSC3014. Lecture 4. Anthropological and Religious Approaches to Magic.
Misconception of Kuhn This is a total misconception of Kuhn. Of course we can understand what the other paradigm is -
Kuhn writes with great clarity about geocentrism; we all know what it is. Might be difficult to think
inside that paradigm, but we can if we need to. Just no numerical comparison between them. Strong
notion of incommensurability sabotages historical and cultural research. To say an idea or culture is
totally incommensurable, and then go on to describe it is incoherent.
Possibility of translation ? Some investigators refuse to translate. If we take this view of language too, there are severe
problems - working outwards argument. Person to person, group to group, languages, cultures - we
can understand. Is a problem with some translation. Easy with western European languages, which
map words one-to-one; others don‟t - e.g. ancient Greek. Red - rouge -rot - similar concepts and
words. Greek aitia - can mean blame, shame, cause, explanation, responsibility. Aristotle does not have four causes - has four types of explanation for events (material, formal, efficient, teleological).
But: - can you understand French ?
Is it not possible to be bi-lingual ?
Where are the barriers and why ?
Language, dialect, individuals ?
Pre-science and science. Remember too that Kuhn believes we can distinguish pre-science and science - that would allow
some criticism of magical practice perhaps. So the idea that there is such a radical dislocation
between cultures that we can understand, or properly talk about other cultures finds no support in the
work of Kuhn.
Investigated various African tribes. Similarity and differences with western science. Part of structure
is move to order experience. That is, all human beings in some way attempt to order and classify
their experience, and seek to explain the breadth of our experience in terms of something simple or
fundamental. Religion, magic and science. All societies and all human beings have a set of beliefs
for ordering the world. Those are sometimes called magical, mythical religious or scientific. What is
common to them is that all seek to bring some sort of order to our experience
Science is a religion ? You may be aware of the argument which says that science is just another religion. Priests of the
creed of science. Hierarchy - Dress - Faith (belief system) - Social control - Authority - Secrecy - Initiation. Comprehensibility of explanation to laymen. Look at that with African magical beliefs in
mind. The point that this argument would want to make is that the structure and function of religion,
magic and science are fundamentally the same. You just have faith in something other than god, but
it is still faith.
Seeing a spirit in a stone is no different to seeing atoms in stone. Implication - universal rationality
done in different settings - due to our social and economic setting, we think our rationality to be
different or superior. May be the case that there are some thought patterns that are common to all.
It may be that all humans seek explanation of the world about them. Those explanations seek to
order experiences in some way; thus universal scientific rationality.
Is that so ?
Implication - all societies do naturally what the Milesians did ? Is there a cosmos ? Order and
regularity ? That is fundamental to science. Also fundamental to rationality. Answer to that is no; not
everyone does this.
Horton - traditional and modern societies.
Open and closed ? Aware of alternatives ? Faith in tradition ? Or faith in progress ? (better than
open/ closed ?).
5 HPSC3014. Lecture 4. Anthropological and Religious Approaches to Magic.
Christianity and the Roman Empire. 249-251 AD. First general persecution under Decius.
257-258 AD. Persecution under Valerian.
260 AD. Edict of toleration by Gallenius.
303-311 AD. Persecution under Diocletian.
313 AD. Constantine‟s Edict of Milan, tolerating Christianity, after conversion of Constantine.
380 AD. Theodosius proclaims Christianity state religion.
Questions of the relation of religion and magic for early Christians.
The central question for the early Christians is how to separate the true miracles worked by God and
Jesus Christ from the works of Pagan magicians. Simply denying the efficacy of Pagan magic is not
an option, for there are several biblical references to it, and given the Christian attitude to the bible,
one must then accept the existence and efficacy of Pagan magic. The early church also has to
counter the view that Christ was a magician, and not divine.
Biblical references to Pagan magic. Numbers 22:7, 23:23, Jehovah‟s condemnation of divination. Deuteronomy 18:10-15, Jehovah‟s
condemnation of augury and necromancy. Leviticus 19:31, 20:6, 20:27, Jehovah‟s condemnation of
mediums and wizards. Exodus 7:8-20, Jehovah‟s condemnation of enchanters and shape changing. In the apocryphal Book of Enoch, astrology is taught to men by fallen angels, who have taught them
charms and enchantments, meteorology, the signs of the sun and moon. Saul and the Witch of Endor
(1 Samuel, 28:8-26), King Saul banishes soothsayers and diviners from Israel, but still felt the need
for their guidance, and consults the witch of Endor who summons the spirit of the dead Samuel.
There is also a new testament problem concerning the star of Bethlehem. What, in Christian terms, is
it ? Why do the wise men follow it ? If it foretokens anything, then surely astrology is possible ?
Early Christian attitudes to Pagan learning
“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem, the Academy with the Church ?... We have no need for
curiosity since Jesus Christ, nor for inquiry since the Evangel.”
Early Christian attitudes to magic and astrology.
St. Augustine (354-430 AD) distinguished between the good and miraculous acts of God, and evil
acts of magic dependent upon demons. He argues against astrology, as he believes that if our fate is
written in the stars, then there is a problem for the Christian notion of a free choice between good and
evil. The apocryphal Book of Enoch states that astrology is taught to the wives of men by fallen
angels, who also teach them spells and enchantments; note here, as with other ideas current at the
time, that the intellectual foundations of the later witch hunt period are being laid. Augustine‟s
arguments against astrology are actually fairly poor, and he seems not to have read the important
work of Ptolemy.
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) makes a highly influential distinction between miracles as the works of God which can override the order of the natural world, the apparently miraculous which can
in fact be explained (e.g. eclipses), and magic, done by ordinary humans but requiring the assistance
of demons. Aquinas accepts the influence of the stars on physical events on earth, but denies that
the stars can affect the minds of men, as the corporeal cannot dictate to the incorporeal. Alchemy,
separated from any magical belief (as is possible) is fine according to Aquinas.
The early Christians have two strategies for dealing with Pagan religions. One is to assimilate or
Christianise some of their beliefs and festivals (e.g. winter solstice becomes Christmas). The other is
to demonise; ceremonies and practices which actually have no connotations of evil, but merely of
fertility (e.g. Goddess and Stag), are demonised as evil and devil-worshipping (the stag is associated
with the horned one, i.e. the devil, by Christians), giving a pretext for their suppression.
Christianity and the Roman Empire. 249-251 AD. First general persecution by Decius.
257-258 AD. Persecution under Valerian.
260 AD. Edict of toleration by Gallenius.
303-311 AD. Persecution under Diocletian.
313 AD. Constantine‟s Edict of Milan, tolerating Christianity, after conversion of Constantine.
380 AD. Theodosius proclaims Christianity the official state religion.
Decline and fall of Rome.
Roman empire splits onto eastern and western halves - Eastern empire lasts longer. Church centre of
society and learning. Struggle of church to put down Paganism.
6 HPSC3014. Lecture 4. Anthropological and Religious Approaches to Magic.
Early attitude to pagan learning ?
By Pagan in this context we are talking about anything that isn‟t Christian. That includes the Greeks
who are pantheists. Some are happy to gain knowledge whatever the source, as long as it can be
fused with Christianity. Others, particularly in the very early church, are more dismissive.
Tertullian. Tertullian 230 AD, what has Athens to with Jerusalem ? Or the academy the church ? No
need for any enquiry since Christ. Plato‟s academy shut down by Christians.
“I would wish you to draw from Greek philosophy such things as are fit to serve as preparatory
studies for Christianity, and from geometry and astronomy such things as may be useful for the
interpretation of Holy Scripture.” Origen, c330 AD. “Nor need we be afraid if the Christian is ignorant of the force and number of the elements, the
motion and eclipses of the heavens, the natures of animals, plants and stones... It is enough for the
Christian to believe that the cause of all created things, whether in heaven or earth, visible or
invisible, is none other than the goodness of the Creator, the one true God.” Augustine c390 AD
“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem, the Academy with the Church, the heretic with the
Christian ?.. We have no need of curiosity after Jesus Christ, nor of research after the gospel. We
believe this first, that there is nothing else that we should believe.” Tertullian, c250 AD.
“Will you listen to the vain babble of their philosophers, who say that fire is God ? They mistake deity for their destination.” Hermias. Closure of the Academy, Justinian 529.
Role of church.
After the fall of Rome, church does play an important role as being the only centre for learning and
the preservation of such Greek and Roman thought as is left. Attitude to magic and astrology ?
St. Augustine. St. Augustine, 354-430 AD. Important theologian and activist.
St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas,1225-1274 AD, different attitude. After period of dark ages and
recovery of Greek texts, but he is very interested in the Greek works, and produces a fusion of
Aristotle and Christianity which is scholasticism. The dominant philosophy in the West up to 1600.
Problems for church.
How to distinguish the true miracles of God and Christ from the magic of the Pagans. To defend
against the charge that Christ was another magician, common at time. To make space for the idea of
freedom of the will within astrology. To deal with paganism in general - how to convert everyone to
Christianity and put an end to paganism.
Christians use faith and miracles, not magic. The key miracle of course is the resurrection. Christ
performs various others; feeding of the five thousand, walking on water, healing the ill, etc. Idea of
something beyond the normal is deeply embedded in Christianity. A miracle is something which goes
beyond the normal workings of nature. It is worked by God through someone. Both St. A‟s agree –
there is NO white magic.
Pagan magic ?
Denying the existence or efficacy of pagan magic is not a possibility here, as it is mentioned several
times in the bible.
Pagan magic condemned. Condemnations of magical practices. Wizardry, necromancy, enchanting
all banned. The usual punishment is stoning.
Numbers 22:7, 23:23, Jehovah‟s condemnation of divination. Deuteronomy 18:10-15, Jehovah‟s
condemnation of augury and necromancy. Leviticus 19:31, 20:6, 20:27, Jehovah‟s condemnation of mediums and wizards. Exodus 7:8-20, Jehovah‟s condemnation of enchanters and shape changing.
Pagan magic exists and works.
Witch of Endor. Saul and the Witch of Endor (1 Samuel, 28:8-26). God has deserted Saul and he is
losing a war. Summons spirit of dead Samuel. Witch is wary: witchcraft punishable by death.
Rods and snakes. Aaron and Moses visit the Pharaoh. Three pagan enchanters turn their rods into
snakes. So does Moses; and his snake eats the other three. Doubtless a good deal of this is symbolic
or metaphorical. However, impossible for someone taking the bible to be the word of god to deny the
existence of pagan magic or its efficacy.
Exodus, rods and snakes.
7 HPSC3014. Lecture 4. Anthropological and Religious Approaches to Magic.
The Lord said unto Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you „Perform a wonder,‟ then you shall
say to Aaron, „Take our staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, and it will become a snake.” So
Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did as the Lord commanded; Aaron threw down his staff
before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and
the sorcerers; and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same by their secret arts. Each one
threw down his staff, and they became snakes; but Aaron‟s staff swallowed theirs.
7:20-21 Moses strikes the Nile with his staff and turns it to blood – Egyptians do the same – following
passage is assorted plagues sent by God.
You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live.
Leviticus prohibition. You shall not practice augury or witchcraft… Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them
out to be defiled by them.
Leviticus 19:26 & 19:31
Deuteronomy – magic in the new land
When you come into the land that the lord your God is giving you, you must not learn to imitate the
abhorrent practices of those nations. No one shall be found amongst you who makes a son or
daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer,
or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. For
whoever does these things is abhorrent to the lord your God. It is because of such abhorrent
practices that the lord your God is driving them out before you. You must remain completely loyal to
the lord your God. Although these nations that you are about to dispossess give heed to soothsayers
and diviners, as for you, the lord your God does not permit you to do so.
Efficacy of Pagan magic – Saul and the medium.
So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes and went there, he and two men with him. They
came to the woman by night. And he said “Consult a spirit for me, and bring up for me the one who I
name to you.” The woman said unto him “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off
the mediums and the wizards from the land. Why then are you laying a snare for my life to bring
about my death ?” But Saul swore to her by the lord “As the lord lives, no punishment shall come
upon you for this thing.” Then the woman said “Who shall I bring up for you ?” He answered “Bring up
Samuel for me.” When the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice “Why have you deceived
me ? You are Saul !” The king said to her “Have no fear, what do you see ?” The woman said to Saul
“I see a divine being coming up out of the ground.” He said to her “ What is his appearance ?” She
said “An old man is coming up; he is wrapped in a robe.” So Saul knew it was Samuel, an he bowed
with his face to the ground and did obeisance.
Christian and Pagan magic ? Note some of this as a background and basis to the later witch hunt. Pagan magic depends on
demons. Often worship of proper symbol, tree, stone, etc. Heretics perform seemingly miraculous
deeds with private contracts with demons. Demons often considered to be fallen angels. Pagans
would consider them to be natural spirits in their natural homes. So magical practices are possible,
but they are different from the miracles of God and JC, and are always evil.
Augustine sees a problem with astrology. Christian view is that God has given men free will, and they
can then work out their own salvation. If you are good, heaven, if not hell. But that depends on your
free will and free action. If the future is readable, that is we live in deterministic world, then this free
will is meaningless. That is a severe challenge to the Christian conception of the nature of life and
freedom. Another problem too, according to Augustine. World governed not by chance or fate but by
Book of Enoch.
What we know as the bible is a collation from many sources, and there has been debate about what
should and should not be in the bible. Those books edited out are known as apocryphal. Book of
8 HPSC3014. Lecture 4. Anthropological and Religious Approaches to Magic.
Enoch, an apocryphal Old Testament work, tells how knowledge of astrology was attained. Fallen
angels have relations with the wives of men, and teach them astrology, along with charms and
enchantments, etc. Thus this is highly impure knowledge. Later problems. Note again the
intellectual basis being laid for the witch hunt of C16 and C17. Paranoia about powers women may
have and where they get them from.
Augustine has some anti-astrology arguments. Twins born at roughly the same time have very
different lives. Answer; twins not born at exactly the same time. Astrologer Figulus strikes clay on
potter‟s wheel twice as quickly as he can. Considerable gap between the two. But if so, that is so little
time makes so much difference, how can astrology be accurate at all ? Astrologers tested by giving
them the birth dates of animals - they give horoscope as for humans !
Star of Bethlehem. Problem with deterministic astrology - is Christ born because of the configuration of the heavens ? Rather, star is sign from God. Star of the Magi a one off for specific purpose, Magi
told by a spirit to follow the star. But astrology as God‟s providence ?
Augustine‟s attack poor - not read Ptolemy, the key figure in intellectual astrology. Basic problem; if the world is not ruled by chance or fate, but by divine providence, which has a plan for the world,
then the stars cannot determine what happens but they foretoken or indicate what will happen.
Augustine seems unable to get around that problem so his attack on is rather ineffective. Key point -
the distinction between the proper miracles of God and Christ which by their nature are always good,
and the evil magic pagans.
Augustine hugely important thinker in early Christianity. Sets doctrine and tone of belief on many
issues. To re-itereate: Against all magic. It is done via demons – they are enticed by symbols – plants,
trees, incantations, ceremonies, animals – reasonable catalogue of Pagan activities. To deny
existence of Pagan magic is contrary to scripture
St. Thomas Aquinas.
The other critical thinker on these matter. Remember Ptolemy‟s arguments here. No denying that
night and day, and the seasons, are caused by sun and moon, and that many events in the animal
kingdom (hibernation, fertility) are related to the positions of sun and moon. Mind higher than body.
Heavenly bodies thus cannot act on mind, even if they do act on earth. There can then be some
physical astrological effects, but not mental ones.
Definition of a miracle. Contrary to created order and done by God alone. Many things may seem miraculous to the
uninitiated which can be explained - eclipses, etc. Magic. There magic as well, but the magician is
not sufficient on his own to create this. Nor are some men especially endowed with powers here. It is
really demons that are behind all magical acts. All magical acts are evil.
Alchemy though is a true art. Can be done in purely physical manner - does not require any special
powers. There are occasionally laws related to alchemy. These are, effectively to defend the finances
of the state. So the laws prohibit transmutation of metals to gold. Interesting that there is a belief this
may be possible and a need to legislate. No general law against alchemy as a magical art.
Roman attitudes. Christianity, some have suggested, has never been the most tolerant of religions. Early Roman attitude, in occupied countries, was to live and let live. Local customs were allowed to
flourish, as long as they did not incite uprising against Rome. No attempt to impose Roman religion
on the locals; left to Pagan ways. Roman/ Greek pantheist background. Whole pantheon (literally: all
the gods) of gods one might worship, perhaps depending on what you want from prayer/ sacrifice. As
long as you believe in some gods, and do some sort of worship or homage, that is OK.
9 HPSC3014. Lecture 4. Anthropological and Religious Approaches to Magic.
Christianity has radically different view, that everyone must be converted. Pagan religion must be
destroyed. Biblical references for this are everywhere in the Old Testament. I am the one true God,
you shall have none other than me, etc. So too New Testament; must come to God via Jesus Christ.
Assimilation. Christians take over Pagan festivals. Christmas and winter solstice. Easter and spring equinox.
This country, harvest festival. One that is relatively untouched is Halloween. But that leads us into
the other Christian strategy. Demonisation. Much Paganism relates to nature worship and fertility
rituals. Not surprising as very little was known about fertility - great deal of correlative thought here.
Invocation of many symbols of fertility, etc.
Pagan festivals. This is a process of seeing the work of the devil in certain Pagan festivals. Fertility symbolism of
Goddess (mother earth), eggs, phallic symbols, and stag. Stag seen as immensely virile creature.
Fertility right; someone dressed in antlers, has sex with someone representing Goddess in order to
make the fields fertile. Queen of the May is partial assimilation of this. Pagans might be said to
worship the horned one. No connotations of evil here, only of fertility. Christians turn that around and
see this as a devil worshipping ceremony. Not a question of being prudish - that is a rather later
Christian trend. Note though the role of the virgin Mary and the sin of Eve in Christian mythology.
This will be picked up on in the witch hunt – 80% of those excuted are women. Attitude in books such
as Malleus Maleficarum (the hammer of the evil doers) by Kramer & Sprenger, the first handbook of
witch hunting, is strongly influenced by this. Women can be very good, such a Mary, but in general
are very bad, and it is via Eve that evil enter the world.
Note too how Halloween has been demonised. Witches and evil spirits, etc. This is not the original
pagan notion at all. The barrier between the physical and the spirit realm two was thinnest on
Halloween, and so communication with spirits most likely.
No connotations of evil or witchcraft there at all, for the Pagans. That is a specifically Christian
interpretation. Gives good pretext to suppress or modify. Important to recognise some of the ideas
behind this. No-one has magical power. Anything above or beyond nature requires a source of such
power. Either that is a miracle worked by god. Or you are in league with the devil. No such thing as a
'white witch' for Christianity.
Has similar attitudes to Christianity on many of these issues.
Sensitive to the accusation that Muhammed was a magician.
Humans have no magical power.
The miracles of Allah have to be distinguished from magic.
Distinguish apparent magic (miracle of Allah) from magic which is always evil.
Scholasticism. Dominant view of the middle ages, talking here of 1250-1600, is that of
scholasticism. Christianised form of Aristotle‟s philosophy. Held by the churches and the monasteries,
and so too the new universities which begin to spring up from C13 onwards, always under church
control. UCL. UCL first secular university. To enter, no need to subscribe to the 39 articles of the
Protestant faith. Note no church or theology departments at UCL. „Godless on Gower Street‟ ! KCL
created to combat the Godless - it has large theology department and internal chapel.