17. MAGIC AND RITUAL CURING (4/07)
Magic as ritual
One class of ritual has gotten great attention over years, i.e. magic, any form of ritual
where some concrete, instrumental goal is intended: ritual to make someone love you, to
make crops grow, to kill someone
Much confusion caused in past by trying to discuss magic and religion as completely
separate and antithetical categories, when in fact overlap. If church congregation prays
for rain, then magical as well as religious
Not a neutral, quiet subject; rather has heated intellectual history.
In renaissance and early modern Europe, magic wasn’t OK, prohibited by church,
considered that ultimately depended on demons.
But many practiced magic
With Reformation, one of most common Protestant accusations against Catholic church
was that involved magic
With colonialism, colonizers often said natives superstitious, prone to magical thinking
In studies of “primitive mentality”, magic often cited as proof
Number of 19
and early 20
century anthros saw magic as logical failure
Frazer said primitive man thought he was omnipotent; to say something was to make it
happen: this was stage of magic.
Then awful realization that not omnipotent, in fact powerless, so power must be
elsewhere: start of religion
And then finally, science, complete rationality
Completely imaginary sequence, Frazer actually had no idea what people in pre-industrial
societies were thinking
Bronislaw Malinowski, came after Frazer, studied magic in Trobriand Islands off
N.Guinea. Modified Frazer.
Said magic not instead of technology but as supplement.
Said there is always gap between what technology will do and what one wants, esp. in
premodern societies with simple technology
Said that magic was way to deal with uncertainty and anxiety
Predicted that magic would be where greatest gap
His example was fishing magic in Trobriands.
Inside reef safe, low returns.
Outside reef more dangerous, could be greater returns, but also could be skunked.
offshore, greatest danger and uncertainty but also greatest payoff sometimes.
magic varied directly with uncertainty and danger. (B. Malinowski, 1948,
Science, and Religion
Several studies since then replicate M’s results.
Richard Price studied fishing magic on
Martinique. Thought there was no fishing magic until left bailer, calabash, upside down,
panicked crew, metaphor for canoe.
Found there was magic and varied with danger and