STS 213 Lecture 7 Anthropological Approaches to Magic and Science

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STS 213 Lecture 7 Anthropological Approaches to Magic and Science

    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.

    Other cultures.

    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 =

    irrational ?

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.

Challenge ?

    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.

Kuhn’s paradigms.

    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.

Robin Horton.

    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.

Early Christianity.

    “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.

    Exodus 7:8-12

    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.

    Exodus 22:18

    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.

    Deuteronomy 18:10ff

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.

    Samuel 28:8-14.

    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

    divine providence.

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 ?

Ineffective attack.

    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.

St. Augustine.

    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.

Christian attitudes

    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.

Christian interpretation.

    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.

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