Magicology (IV): The magical mindset


The existing opposition has been mentioned several times on this page, although without much success, between religion and magic. This distinction becomes less clear as we travel back in time, where common rituals have praxis and purposes that can be strange and mysterious. Before addressing what is called the magical mentality, some points of these confusing images must be made clear (of which something can be read in Principles of Magiology III) that determine the slight border between the magical world and the religious world, and that at the same time have determined the definition of magical mindset.

We use "mentality" or "mindset" here and not "thought", because doing so could fall into the psychological image and its interpretation of magic through coincidences (Forer/Barnum Effect), mental disorders or disorders. Calling it mentality, we will only refer to the general set, mindset, and not to the individual mind and its repercussions.

-Some distinctions between magic and religion

Frazer (1890) said that magic was the universal creed, since there was a universality in the belief in the existence of magic, while religions, apparently appearing after the fact, varied and did not have that infallible character that magic does have. However, according to the anthropologist - currently his thought has been, by far, surpassed - religion, more organized and selective, won the pulse of magic precisely because of the unprovability of its preaching. The effectiveness of magic cannot be demonstrated, but religion does not offer immediate verifiable results.

Thus, the first difference is the purpose. Religion has a superior entity, a divinity, spirit or purpose (as it happens in Buddhism, being a non-theistic religion) to which it is tied and attached. It is something superior to the human being in its earthly form, and for this reason it is subject to its actions. There may be a link, but both worlds, the divine and the human, are separate. At the end of human life, it is when the possibility of direct union exists, either as part of a Whole, or while preserving individuality. The cases in which both worlds can intermingle are rare. The purpose of the religious ritual, of the prayers, of the prayers, of the offerings, is always that the divinity responds to the faithful, that it grants them tangible or intangible, individual or collective goods, with special interest in the life that is understood to there is beyond But it remains that, a prayer.

In the world of magic, there are also these higher entities, but the human being does not necessarily have that feeling of inferiority. Human limitations may or may not be accepted, as it is part of the magical purpose to challenge them, as will be seen a little later. But magic doesn't beg, magic commands. Magic is the spiritual tool to alter the environment presented as immovable. It can modify psychological or physical issues of the individual practicer, or of other people, it can also modify material things, bend situations. It turns the practitioner into one of those higher entities, with the capacity to make decisions and the ability to change. Sometimes intermediaries with such powers are necessary, which are above the practitioner, but not so much as not to be manipulated with the correct spells, which show that the human being is not a simple puppet.

Given this, the second difference is obvious: the methods. A religious ritual has a defined structure, usually by a hierarchy that has established certain rules. The whole community participates, fulfilling a specific role, even if it is passive. All the participants know this role and also know the objects that have to be used and how. The center of the ritual is the moment in which divinity manifests itself, in one way or another. We can think of Catholic transubstantiation or the analysis of the entrails (exta) of the sacrificial victim in ancient Rome, where the state of the organs was checked to determine the disposition of the gods towards men. But we can also think of the dances of the Sufis, or of the African traditions, where ecstasy is sometimes taken for the presence of divinity, or at least, its full connection.

However, the world of magic is much more heterogeneous. As for the rituals, most of them, some focused on spirituality, others on material ends, are presented as simple models and open to changes, personal or community, in a way that is considered better or more effective. The same occurs with ritual elements, in some cases similar to religious ones (candles, incense, music, prayers...), where they can be used or not, in the number and form that is preferred. It is true that, often, there are certain symbolisms that define and limit the use of some of these, such as the color of the candles or clothing, the symbols of the amulets, the astrological meanings of the minerals... and perhaps the pronunciation when spells are included in arcane or sacred languages, whose sounds, on the other hand, tend to be relegated to memory, since there are never any primordial dimensions. But nowhere is it said that an object, and exclusively one, must be used in a closed way in a specific ritual. What's more, when this is done, it's out of tradition or "utility": if it's worked before, it should work now. And it is that at the moment in which a hierarchy is established, that authority directs the steps of the group and defines the following movements and ways. This somehow breaks the ideas of freedom inherent in magic, freedom that Chaos Magic boasts about, for example. In the cases in which closed and controlled operations are established, in magical acts, we would be talking about religious communities that have magic as a religious element or union in the community: it would be the case of Wicca or certain occult orders, as well as of those religions that fall within the model of "paganism", that is to say, those that already in the first centuries of our era were defined as heresies and reproached for their polytheistic religious rituals, later framed in magical terrain from the point of view of the Christian religion; also those that do not follow the "western" religious model, where elements considered to be of religious faith for believers are seen from outside as magical paraphernalia.

The third difference is the community, and here not only the practical question enters, but also the social one. In the religious conception, it is difficult to understand, except in the cases of wise hermits, a faith carried in solitude. Not only because religions tend to show certain social behavior among their precepts, but because, as a whole, it is difficult to imagine an exclusively personal religion, with the safeguard that each believer takes faith in his own way. It is almost impossible for an individual to hold a belief from scratch and put it into practice without agreeing with others with their thinking and forming a school, and in the case of this, it is usually appealed to as a philosophy of life, rather than as a religion. But in the case of the practitioner of magic, attached or not to an order, group, society or religion, their practices, as has been seen previously fully free, can be given in a totally individual way, and at the time that the person decides or prefers. . And not necessarily having to belong to a group, or rather, belonging to such a broad and diffuse group, the idea of ​​community is not necessary for the magician to carry out his rituals successfully, except on festivities or designated events. where it is considered a necessity. To this is added that, while hermit religious or philosophers disassociate themselves from their community, even though they share ideas, the practitioner of magic may never have been nor be linked. This, on the other hand, may not be an origin or state, but a forced and marginal situation, especially centuries ago: the witch or sorcerer, even the sorcerer or alchemist, is a solitary person who has acquired his abilities through study and/or experiences, who lives away from the rest of society. This image is nothing more than a reflection of the marginalization of widows or the elderly, of the "weird", to whom, however, they do not hesitate to turn in case they require solutions other than those commonly offered.

-The difference in treatment.

How religion and magic have survived together, taking into account the spiritual harassment of the first towards the second, has a clear answer based on what has been stated above and one more note: necessity. On this also two sections must be distinguished, the first, the similarity of science and pseudo-science, and the second, belief and credulity.

Magic, in its very essence, seeks the manipulation of the environment, considering that there are energies or fluids that are combinable and modifiable. The first ideas of what science was were not very misguided from these same ideas. Some practices, such as alchemy, were precursors of what would later be chemistry, just as astrology and astronomy developed in parallel until their separation. They also share similar searches: yes, magic can look for transcendental or emotional things, such as immortality or a love spell, but it also looks for health or crop improvements. Before long, demonstrable changes were science, and unprovable changes were magic, pseudo-science.

As for belief, we are on slippery ground. If the existence of supernatural beings is accepted, it is normal to accept that both religion and magic refer to these beings and therefore are real and effective. The difference is, especially in the Western world, that magic is aided by intermediate or inferior beings, usually with certain interests in the matter. These beings are not divine, and yet, if they can act that way, it is because they either escape divine sight, or are tolerated by it. In this way, in the Western Middle Ages, magic was taken for real because God allowed the Devil and his minions to tempt with such practices, something that was theologically excessively controversial when judging witches and wizards. However, it can be said that there are different types of magic, white magic, black magic... Although this matter has been dealt with in other articles, it is worth noting that, within this conception of heavenly tolerance, magic is also associated with "power". There will be several historical figures, whatever their geographical origin, to whom a prodigious birth is attributed, or the succession of wonderful events at important moments of their life or death (Fdez. Álvaréz, 1990) Magic will belong to these "good" magic, often coming from a divine entity, while "bad" magic will belong to the lower class, with the exception of those identified individuals associated religiously or politically in the future (the clearest example is in legends where a villager with strange powers ends up being beneficial for a community or important character) Again, a social origin in the conceptions of belief and credulity, as well as the magical practices of these low-class ones, often taken for granted. fraud, can only be believed by those of the same level. Throughout the Modern Age, this credulity of fraud will also be attributed to the acts of the Devil himself, who really does not have the power to alter nature, exclusive to God, but rather feigns, manipulates or subjects those who have been subjected to visions. tempted by him.

The magical mentality, however, will not deny the existence of deceptions, and this began, really, not with the lights of the Renaissance, but with the end of wars. As needs are reduced, fears are reduced, and consequently, magic is no longer necessary. Religion, although weaker, also suffers from this detachment, especially among the upper classes, those who had the most needs covered.

-The magical mentality and its consequences

Therefore, magical mentality is understood as the entire conglomerate of thought previously exposed. Accept the existence of magic, within the acceptance of the parallel existence of religion.

In this set there will be various sections that the religious and scholars of the time will organize. One of them will be the one that differentiates the rural from the urban magic, once the first cities have already been formed, centers of commerce. While in rural magic the concerns are diseases and poor harvests, in the city there will be economic and love concerns. Erotic magic will acquire an important value, as Culianu (1984) referred almost completely in his work Eros and Magic, and that will be reflected in characters such as Celestina by Fernando de Rojas (1499). The magic will be marked by the goings-on of this type of characters, and from these figures that restore virgos or hide marital infidelities, the malignancies of witches will appear, related to the thought of incubi, sexual demons that come to women and, consequently, , as Fernández Álvarez (1990) indicates, put their "horns" on husbands, as well as sexually transmitted diseases, too shameful to be recognized. These acts of witchcraft affect a higher level in rural areas, where superstition and faith are more deeply rooted, and the accusation of bad harvests turns to poisoning, by those people who know the traditional uses of the herbs, or the sacrifice of infants, by midwives, who are the first to touch and care for newborns. Likewise, similar misdeeds will be attributed to marginal groups, in Europe the gypsies or Jews, and outside Europe, nomadic groups or enemy populations.

Another distinction will be based on power. As has been well said above, power is associated with positive magic and a few lucky astrologers or wise men at its service. But it should be noted that, curiously, the witchcraft that we have been mentioning barely affected political levels: it will be used as an excuse at times when it is necessary to confront an ecclesiastical power, or a subjugating power, as will happen in India, America or Africa, when the colonizations begin -more as a movement against the invading power than as a faithful believer- and this can also be used as a measure of the inquisitorial aggressiveness depending on which European countries, or assess the importance and brutality of the persecutions in other continents, and verify that the persecution of spiritually dangerous characters in environments of a majority religious belief is not nearly as critical as where religious wars took place, or where religion, without incident, is close to the powerful ones, for which reason in turn they face political individuals.

And of course, seeing these distinctions, we cannot but make a third one, external to magicology studies: the one that analyzes all this literary production on magic and its characteristics, both from the point of view of practitioners or supposed practitioners (their grimoires and compendia), as well as from the perspective of religious scholars or skeptics. Leaving aside the first group for later articles, since their typologies are very different depending on their geographical and cultural origin, in the group of scholars we will once again have the problem of the magical mentality: in religious writings, generally with a theological approach , magic will be considered real, while skeptics will have to be cautious when denying everything that, being magical and considered false, is strictly related to religious beliefs. Outside the Western world, magic, not having (generally) the component of an imposed religion, is always held as repugnant acts by its development, and reprehensible by its ends.

One last point to discuss, finally, and related to this last section, is that of the magical mentality of the practitioner or believer and of the non-practitioner or believer. It likes to think that ancient magic and witchcraft were believed, literally, as acts of the invoked presences, as direct causes of their actions, reaching ridiculous points of credulity in the most mundane things. Others pointed to the possible mental illness of the supposed wizard or witch, so as not to deny that he really "believed" what he said. However, if we analyze the thought that runs through magical practices today, that is, the notion of fluids and energies, of belonging to a Whole, of mental capacities that are not used, etc., it is possible to think that people, even scholars, were able to come to this type of thoughts, under a filter of symbolism extracted from the spiritual context that was known to them, and not just let themselves be carried away by the curiosity of apparently meaningless questions. Not in vain, a true esoteric or occultist is capable of fitting each and every one of the pieces of the puzzle of his beliefs through myths and symbolisms that are referenced in parallel throughout the world, taking into account concrete and anthropological realities, not necessarily far from all science, which demonstrate common conclusions, identities and thoughts throughout the world in the deepest questions linked to existence. The magical mentality, in this case, is a believing philosophy, but so is the fact of taking magic as another respectable belief, regardless of the belief or not of the person who contemplates it.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada - pietrocarracedo@gmail.com


- Coulianu. I.P. Eros y la magia en el Renacimiento. Siruela, 2007.

- Daxelmüller, C. Historia social de la magia. Herder, 2009

-Fernández Álvarez, M. Gran Hª. Universal. VI. Renacimiento y humanismo.. III. 8. Ed. Najera. Madrid, 1990

- Frazer, J.G. La rama dorada: magia y religión. Fondo de Cultura económica. México. (re ed.) 2011

Related posts:
> Magicology (I): Magia daemoniaca y magia naturalis
> Magicology (II): A distorted picture
> Magicology (III): Two sides of the same coin
Licencia de Creative Commons
Este obra está bajo una licencia de Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-CompartirIgual 4.0 Internacional.