Magic - magic describes supernatural actions done to...

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Unformatted text preview: magic describes supernatural actions done to achieve instrumental ends, such as acquiring love or money, punishing an en— emy, or protecting a friend. It seems to rely on causal connections that a rational ob— server would describe as irrational; that is, it asserts causal connections that have no demonstrable existence in the natural world. One of the classic examples of magical systems is derived from EVANS- PRITCHARD’s (193?) early study of the Azande, a Sudanese people who assumed that all deaths are ultimately caused by WITCHCRAFT. For example, when a man sitting under the granary was killed after it collapsed upon him, the Azande asserted that a witch had caused the death. When Evans—Pritchard pointed out that the granary’s wooden structure was rotten and it was hardly surprising that it had col- lapsed, the Azande said he had missed the point. Any fool could see that the proxi- mate cause of death was the rotten struc— ture, but this begged a more important question: why did it collapse when this man, rather than any other, was seated be— neath it? Witchcraft, the supernatural curs— ing of one man by another, was obviously the ultimate cause and the answer to why bad things happen to people according to the Azande. And this, they argued, was a much more satisfying explanation than claiming the universe was ruled by chance events. The anthropological problem of magic is that anthropologists find similar practices in a wide variety of cultures, including their own, and yet anthropologists are usually unable to believe that these actions achieve their ends. The complex epistemological problems created by the Western—educated observer’s willingness to call this behavior “irrational” has led to an exchange known as the “rationality debate.” Mostly amo philosophers, with some input from an; thropoiogists, it takes the anthropologi ' problem of magic (and usually Evans: Pritchard‘s monograph on the Azande) ' its starting point and then develops elaborate discussion of rationality, beli cross-cultural understanding, and problem of interpretation (Luhrrn 1989). Within the anthropological litera there are two standard approaches to he. problem of magic. The first asserts -, these practices are based on a theory of r. - world that happens to be false; the sec-s " that practitioners are not attempting. : achieve some direct physical result it rather a psychological end. The debate far from concluded; Horton (1993) a 1 ' in favor of the former approach, '- Tambiah (1984) strongly defended latter. The classic proponent of the first proach, often labeled “intellectualist,” ‘ Sir James FRAZER, who argued that ma was characteristic of earlier stages of h . man culture and had as its primary end i need to ensure the continued fertility of seasons, such as the return of spring winter. Practitioners did not initially re to nize the intellectual inadequacy of theory of causation and when they e a ally did so, RELIGION — with its attem propitiate supernatural beings - bet: the dominant mode of intellectual rl' standing, followed finally by science, _ generates actions based on a theory of- sation that approximates the world as 1 Frazer’s analysis was embedded in ‘ sive volumes and opulent prose in ' described a cluster of symbolic concep for example, that the king as a repress tion of fertile land must never fall ill of that be framed through a rich historical nd ethnographic trail (Frazer 1890). The alternative approach argues, for ex- mple, that when the Dinka, a Sudanese eople studied by Godfrey Lienhardt 1961), tie a knot in the grass to delay the assing of time, or the Trobriand Islanders f the Pacific sing songs to protect their ardens and to help them grow Malinowski 1935), they are not victims ffalse beliefs. Using seagoing canoes as an xample, MALINOWSKI (1948) forcefully rgued that Trobrianders do not really be- .eve that their recited chants make their shoes more sea-worthy and have no illu- ions that these chants can take the place of echnical or “scientific” knowledge, as irazer’s theory seemed to imply. Indeed, hey spent a great deal of time caulking nd carving and engineering the most sea- vorthy vehicle they could. They chanted, vialinowski explained, because they were nxious that, despite their efforts, the raves would overturn the canoes neverthe— ess, and the chanting relieved that anxiety Ind expressed their hopes. The core of his approach is that the magic is symbolic, n that it refers to something other than tself. Some of these debates take on new neaning when the magical practitioners are sophisticated Westerners, because they be- ieve in a theory of magic while having ac~ :ess to a “scientific” theory of nature. If magic is the result of ignorance of better :nodels then it should not occur where :hese models are an ingrained part of the aulmre. Luhrmann (1989) described such i. popular practice among contemporary “neopagans” in England and America who engage in magic for {at times) clearly in- strumental ends. She argued that their ac- tions must be understood as an unintended development of an interpretive approach in which expert knowledge and accumulated experience (often emotional) lead to ratio- finalization. Such an interpretive develop- ment is characteristic of all specialists, not iyst magicians, which gives the system its fieinforeement and power. 1 The study of conjuring magic is a sub— of the more general study of magic. _ rly, conjuring magic (the deliberate at- , pt to fool an audience that knows that it Mama 299 is being fooled) does not involve the same kind of intellectual problems as the study of magic as instrumental action. Nevertheless, conjuring magic can be understood as de— pendent upon the popular hope that there is such supernatural causation, and upon the human delight in illusion, and perhaps even a need for fantasy. An excellent example of that approach is Lee Siegel’s (1991) study of conjuring magic in India, which not only explores illusion explicitly with theory but uses the text itself (in well demarcated sections) to play with the reader’s capacity to suspend disbelief. TL See also DIVINATION, SORCERY further reading Endicott 1970; Horton 8: Finnegan 19T3; Middleton 1967; Skorupski 1976 Maine, Sir Henry James Sumner (1822-88) Maine was a distinguished lawyer, academic, and civil servant in mid— Victorian England. He held chairs in civil law at Cambridge and Oxford and was the legal member of the Council of India for seven years from 1862 and Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge from 1877. But it is for his prolific writings and their influ- ence on modern anthropology (of which, along with TYLOR and MORGAN, he is one of the founding fathers) that we best know him. His central interest was to explain how modern civilization had emerged in certain “progressive” societies. His theory that political organization had originally been based on BLOOD (kinship) and later moved to territory, which is part of that famous transition from societies based on status to ones based on contract that he developed in Ancient law (1861), has provided a solid foundation for much work in POLITICAL ANTHROPOLOGY. His work on the differ- ence between early communities and modern associations strongly influenced the contemporary work of Tonnies and DURKHEIM and later that of REDFIELD. His analysis of corporate institutions helped lay the foundation of modern stud— ies of kinship as developed by FORTES and EVANS-PRI'l‘Cl—lARD. Maine showed the complexity of the “bundle of powers” in PROPERTY and the ...
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