Alternatively spelled Magick.
The use of a certain ritual action to bring about the intervention of a supernatural force, either in human affairs or in the natural environment, for a specific purpose; the art of altering things either by supernatural means or through knowledge of the occult.
Magic has existed universally since ancient times, and varies in form from primary rituals involving the well-being of an entire community, to minor, peripheral, private acts of magic.
All forms of magic are traditionally secret arts taught only to initiates, although in some cultures magical knowledge can sometimes be bought and sold or can be passed on through inheritance. A distinction is usually made between black magic, used destructively to bring misfortune or death, and white magic, which is used to ward off such attacks as well as to prevent natural calamities. In itself magic is not good or evil, it is the magician's intentions that make the difference.
The very earliest forms of magic were designed to produce some desired effect, such as rituals for successful hunting. This simple magic, also called sorcery, involved practices such as tying and untying knots, blood sacrifices, and sticking pins in wax images or little dolls or poppets. Sorcery is also called sympathetic magic by imitating the desired result, it will happen in reality. Harmful sympathetic magic usually requires some personal effect of the victim, such as a lock of hair, a fingernail or article of clothing; it is also important that the victim be aware of the spell, which increases the likelihood of a successful result.
Magical acts may be performed by individuals on their own behalf, or a magician with specialized knowledge of the rites that may be consulted. In some societies, associations of magical specialists exist. Magical practitioners may be called witch doctors, wizards, sorcerers, diviners, witches, warlocks, wise women, cunning women, and so on.
By the Middle Ages in Europe magical arts had become divided between low magic, such as sorcery, and high magic, which meant exploring the esoteric traditions of the Kabbalah and Hermetica, often through elaborate ceremonial magic (see Freemasonry, Order of the Knights Templar, Rosicrucians).
n ceremonial magic the aim of the ritual is to commune with God or a deity to achieve a higher consciousness. The spiritual and mystical elements of hermetic knowledge and the Jewish kabbalah were aimed at facilitating the communication between human beings, spirits and the Divine at different levels of spiritual consciousness.
Magic was discredited by the Scientific Revolution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but interest revived in the nineteenth century, and various occult societies and magical fraternities were established (see Crowley, Aleister). Modern neo-pagan witchcraft (or wicca), includes both low sorcery (but not black magic or blood sacrifice) and high ceremonial magic.
The typical image of a magician is someone characterized by the figure of Merlin, a wizened old man in flowing robes, wearing a pointed hat covered in stars. Although many of us envision the wise old magician to be essentially good, in medieval times anyone labeled a witch or sorcerer would suffer the consequences.
Throughout history, there have been many who have claimed having secret knowledge resultant of great supernatural powers. Merlin, Abaris, Cagliostro, Crowley, amongst many others, are some of the most recognized in times gone by as skilled in the magical arts.
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Sources: (1) Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group; (2) Randi, James, An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, St. Martin's Griffin; (3) The Encyclopaedia Britannica Eleventh Edition Handy Volume Edition, Oxford University Press.
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