Magic: A Very Short Introduction
Defining 'magic' is a maddening task. Over the last century numerous philosophers, anthropologists, historians, and theologians have attempted to pin down its essential meaning, sometimes analysing it in such complex and abstruse depth that it all but loses its sense altogether. For this reason, many people often shy away from providing a detailed definition, assuming it is generally understood as the human control of supernatural forces. 'Magic' continues to pervade the popular imagination and idiom. People feel comfortable with its contemporary multiple meanings, unaware of the controversy, conflict, and debate its definition has caused over two and a half millennia. In common usage today 'magic' is uttered in reference to the supernatural, superstition, illusion, trickery, religious miracles, fantasies, and as a simple superlative. The literary confection known as 'magical realism' has considerable appeal and many modern scientists have ironically incorporated the word into their vocabulary, with their 'magic acid', 'magic bullets' and 'magic angles'. Since the so-called European Enlightenment magic has often been seen as a marker of primitivism, of a benighted earlier stage of human development. Yet across the modern globalized world hundreds of millions continue to resort to magic - and also to fear it. Magic provides explanations and remedies for those living in extreme poverty and without access to alternatives. In the industrial West, with its state welfare systems, religious fundamentalists decry the continued moral threat posed by magic. Under the guise of neo-Paganism, its practice has become a religion in itself. Magic continues to be a truly global issue. This Very Short Introduction does not attempt to provide a concluding definition of magic: it is beyond simple definition. Instead it explores the many ways in which magic, as an idea and a practice, has been understood and employed over the millennia. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
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List of illustrations
Chapter 1Anthropologies of magic
Chapter 2Historical perspectives
Chapter 3All in the mind?
Chapter 4Writing magic
Chapter 5Practising magic
Chapter 6Magic and the modern world
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20th century African American amongst amulets ancient animals anthropologists antiquity Arabic Atharvaveda Basingstoke belief Bible books of magic Cambridge chapter Charcot charms Christian cognitive concept cultures cunning folk David demons Disenchantment djinns Early Modern Egypt Europe European example exploring Frazer French Freud Greek grimoires healing historians history of magic holy human incantations India influence interpreted Islam Jewish John Kabbalah Koran Lévi literary LITERATURE London magi magic and religion magical practices magical thinking magical traditions magical worldview magicians magoi Malinowski marabouts means medicine medieval mezuzah Michael Muslim natural magic notion occult ofMagic Owen Davies Oxford pagan Peter PHILOSOPHY Popular Magic primitive psychology quote religion and magic religious rituals Roman Ronald Hutton sacred scholars scientific Short Introduction sihr social societies sorcery spells spirits Studies Sufism superstition sympathetic magic Testament texts theory Thomas Ady thought Tylor Western Weyer Witch bottle Witchcraft words worship Zoroaster