MAGIC. Originally the word meant the science or art of the Magi, the Persian priestly caste, who, like the Levites, were devoted to the practice of religion. With the wide extension of the term “magus,” the word magic, too, acquired broader significance. It came to mean all occult rituals or processes designed to influence or control the course of nature; to dominate men or circumstances by the alliance, aid, or use of supernatural powers; and generally to tap and to employ the forces of an unseen world. Divination, the art of forecasting the future with a view to avoiding its perils and pitfalls, might be included under the same classification. Its methods were frequently “magic.” In lands ethnologically stratified, magic was often associated with the religion of a conquered or depressed class, or with imported faiths. Therefore magic was found frequently in the hands of foreign elements, was secret in its practice, and was often under official ban as antisocial and illicit. For this reason the Bible gives stern prohibitions against all forms of “wizardry” and “sorcery” (
In the Mosaic Law, contact with magic and its practitioners was strictly forbidden (e.g.,
Bibliography: M. F. Unger, Biblical Demonology, 1952, pp. 107-64; A. L. Oppenheim, The Interpretation of Dreams in the Ancient Near East, 1956; D. Basham, Deliver Us From Evil, 1972.——EMB
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
II. DIVISION OF THE SUBJECT
1. Magic as Impersonal
2. Margic as Personal
III. MAGIC AND RELIGION
IV. MAGIC IN THE BIBLE
1. Hostility to Magic
2. Potency of Magical Words
3. Influence of Charms
V. MAGICAL TERMS USED IN THE BIBLE
6. Repeated Utterances
The word comes from a Greek adjective (magike) with which the noun techne, "art," is understood. The full phrase is "magical art" (17:10). But the Greek word is derived from the magi or Zarathustran (Zoroastrian) priests. Magic is therefore historically the art practiced in Persia by the recognized priests of the country. It is impossible in the present article, owing to exigencies of space, to give a full account of this important subject and of the leading views of it which have been put forth. The main purpose of the following treatment will be to consider the subject from the Biblical standpoint.
In its modern accepted sense magic may be described as the art of bringing about results beyond man’s own power by superhuman agencies. In the wide sense of this definition divination is only a species of magic, i.e. magic used as a means of securing secret knowledge, especially a knowledge of the future. Divination and magic bear a similar relation to prophecy and miracle respectively, the first and third implying special knowledge, the second and fourth special power. But divination has to do generally with omens, and it is better for this and other reasons to notice the two subjects--magic and divination--apart as is done in the present work.
II. Division of the Subject.
1. Magic as Impersonal:
There are two kinds of magic:
In the first, magic is a species of crude science, for the underlying hypothesis is that there are forces in the world which can be utilized on certain conditions, incantations, magical acts, drugs, etc. The magician in this case connects what on a very slender induction he considers to be causes and effects, mainly on the principle of post hoc ergo propter hoc. He may not know much of the causal agency; it is enough for him to know that by performing some act or reciting some formula (see Charm) or carrying some object (see Amulet) he can secure some desired end. Frazer (Golden Bough(2), I, 61) says: "Magic is a kind of savage logic, an elementary species of reasoning based on similarity, contiguity and contrast." But why does the savage draw conclusions from association of ideas? There must be an implied belief in the uniformly of Nature or in the controlling power of intelligent beings.
2. Magic as Personal:
In personal magic, living, intelligent, spiritual beings are made the real agents which men by incantations, etc., influence and even control. The magical acts may in an advanced stage include sacrifice, the incantations become prayer.
Impersonal magic is regarded by most anthropologists, including E.B. Tylor and J. Frazer, as more primitive than the second and as a lower form of it. This conclusion rests on an assumption that human culture is always progressive, that the movement is uniformly onward and upward. But this law does not always hold. The religion of Israel as taught in the 8th century BC stands on a higher level ethically and intellectually than that taught in the writings of Haggai, Zechariah and Eccelesiastes centuries later. Among the ancient Indians, the Rig Veda occupies much loftier ground than the much later Atharva Veda.
III. Magic and Religion.
Personal magic in its higher forms shades off into religion, and very commonly the two exist together. It is the practice to speak of sacrifice and prayer as constituting elements of the ancient and modern religions of India. But it is doubtful whether either of these has the same connotation that it bears in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. J. Frazer (Golden Bough(2), I, 67 ff) says that where the operation of spirits is assumed (and "these cases are exceptional"), magic is "tinged and alloyed with religion." Such an assumption is, he admits, often made and the present writer thinks it is generally made, for even the operation of the laws of association implies it. But Frazer concludes from various considerations that "though magic is .... found to fuse and amalgamate with religion in many ages and in many lands, there are some grounds for thinking that this fusion is not primitive." It is of course personal magic to which religion stands in closest relations. As soon as man comes to see in the beings by whose power marvels are wrought, personalities capable of emotions like himself and susceptible to persuasion, his magical art becomes an intelligent effort to propitiate these superior beings and his incantations become hymns and prayers. In all religions, Jewish, Moslem, Christian or pagan, when the act or prayer as such is held to produce certain results or to secure certain desired boons, we have to do with a species of magic. The word "religion" is inapplicable, unless it includes the idea of personal faith in a God or gods whose favor depends on moral acts and on ritual acts only in so far as they have a voluntary and ethical character. If it be granted that magic, the lower, precedes religion, the higher, this does not necessarily negative the validity of the religious concept. Mature knowledge is preceded by elementary impressions and beliefs which are subjective without objective correspondences. But this higher knowledge is none the less valid for its antecedents. If it can be proved that the Christian or any other religion has become what it is by gradual ascent from animism, magic, etc., its validity is not by this destroyed or even impaired. Religion must be judged according to its own proper evidence. But see II, end.
IV. Magic in the Bible.
1. Hostility to Magic:
The general remarks made on the Bible and divination in DIVINATION, V, have an equal application to the attitude of the Bible toward magic. This attitude is distinctly hostile, as it could not but be in documents professing to inculcate the teaching of the ethical and spiritual religion of Israel (see
2. Potency of Magical Words:
3. Influence of Charms:
V. Magical Terms Used in the Bible.
Many terms employed in the Old Testament in reference to divination have also a magical import. See DIVINATION, VII. For a fuller discussion of Biblical terms connected with both subjects, reference may be made to T. Witton Davies, Magic, Divination and Demonology among the Hebrews and Their Neighbours, 44 iff, 78 ff; see also articles "Divination" and "Magic" in EB, by the present writer.
Here a few brief statements are all that can be attempted. Qecem, usually rendered "divination" (see
The verb kashaph, the(British and American) "to practice sorcery," comes, as Fleischer held, from a root denoting "to have a dark appearance," to look gloomy, to be distressed, then as a suppliant to seek relief by magical means. The corresponding nouns kashshaph and mekashsheph are rendered "sorcerer" in of the Bible.
Lachash, English Versions of the Bible "enchantment," etc. (see
Chebher occurs in the plural only (
6. Repeated Utterances:
The verb battologeo in
The term goetes, the Revised Version (British and American) "impostors," the King James Version "seducers," is used of a class of magicians who uttered certain magical formulas in a deep, low voice (compare the verb goao, which = "to sigh," "to utter low moaning tones"). Herodotus (ii.33) says that there were persons of the kind in Egypt, and they are mentioned also by Euripides and Plato.
See also under AMULET; CHARM; DEMONOLOGY; WITCHCRAFT.
A Very full bibliography of the subject will be found in T. Witton Davies, Magic, Divination and Demonology among the Hebrews and Their Neighbours, xi through xvi. See also the literature under DIVINATION and in addition to the literature cited in the course of the foregoing article, note the following: A. Lehmann, Aberglaube und Zauberei2, 1908; A.C. Haddon, Magic and Fetishism, 1906; Blau, Das altjudische Zauberwesen, 1898; Smith, "Witchcraft in the Old Testament," Biblical Soc., 1902, 23-35; W.R. Halliday, Greek Divination; A Study of Its Methods and Principles, London, Macmillan (important) and the valuable article on "Magic" by Northwest Thomas in the Encyclopedia Brittanica, and also the relevant articles in the Bible dictionaries.
T. Witton Davies