chapter  3
15 Pages

Magic and Maleficium

Many attributes of witchcraft were aspects of magic. Magic is a label applied to phenomena which have certain characteristics in common. There is little agreement on the phenomena or the characteristics. Definition is further confused by viewing magic in the context of science and religion. Within this trichotomy of man's confrontation with nature and the supernatural those aspects which appeared irrational, immoral and selfish were deemed magic. Recently this approach has been dismissed as ethnocentric. It reflected a Christian rationalist orientation of Western scholars rather than the attitudes and behaviour of the societies concerned. The subsequent debate on the definition of magic and its relationship with religion revealed four basic positions. The first gave up. The terms 'magic' and 'religion' must be avoided until a consensus was reached. The second saw magic as part of religion. Christianity and magic were subsets of religion, a religion that could be magical or non-magical. A third reasserted the rationalist position in which magic and religion were opposites or at least at extreme ends of a spectrum. Eclectic accumulation of attributes depicted religion as abstract, selfless, communal and pastoral; magic as specific, selfish, individual and professional. Magic was concerned with the immediate wellbeing of the individual, religion with general symbols of life. A variant concentrated on the Frazerian distinction between the manipulative function of magic and the supplicative emphasis of religion. Magic was based on man's selfish desire, will and pride; religion on trust, selflessness and submission.'