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Researching real-world "magical" traditions

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satyesu

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I'm again trying to find inspiration in how real-world traditions' "magic" (supposedly) works. I've never been able to nail down any explanations of these magic systems. Would someone please give me some resources, or even a place to start looking up this stuff? :)
 

Kjbartolotta

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Dame Frances Yates has written extensively about the Renaissance Occult Tradition, good as place to start as any.

But magic can mean so many things and, AFAIK, no IRL tradition has ever bothered to or ever really cared about coming up with a grand unified theory of it. Modern occultists, yeah, but no one I can think of pre-Golden Dawn.
 

satyesu

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I found a Wikipedia page on "chaos magic," which basically says all magic systems are valid if the user believes in them, or something. So I think I'll use something similar for my novel.

I'd love to find a book that details a little about each of various traditions, because there seems to be a lot to learn. Do any of you know of such a text?
 

Kjbartolotta

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I found a Wikipedia page on "chaos magic," which basically says all magic systems are valid if the user believes in them, or something. So I think I'll use something similar for my novel.

David Carroll is an interesting fellow, still bust out his books from time to time. Of course, I am not a practitioner and I know there have been people on this board who are, let them explain it better if they want to. But Chaos Magic is kind of a deliberately postmodern, kinda punk-rock interpretation.
 

Brightdreamer

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Does your local library or bookstore have an occult/New Age section? Maybe start there; there are usually books on modern witchcraft and such. Authors like D. J. Conway have many books on working with "spirit animals" and the like.

I don't believe there is (or can be) a strict real-world logic to magic, any more than there would be strict real-world logic to, say, prayer. It's not based in physics, like electricity or force, but based on belief and symbolism. There are traditions, of course, which vary around the world, but much of it seems to boil down to focusing intent, often through the use of tools and rituals, sometimes through attempts to contact an "other": deity, spirit, etc.
 

Stytch

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I found a Wikipedia page on "chaos magic," which basically says all magic systems are valid if the user believes in them, or something.


Pretty sure that's the basic (spoiler alert?) plot twist of a horror movie (Skeleton Key?) from a few years back. It was voodoo, in that case, and the voodoo couldn't work unless you got the victim to believe it. Actually, that's been the running theory on voodoo all along, if I understand it. Maybe not on the part of practitioners, but observers. Folks truly think they're hexed, so they act hexed.
 

benbenberi

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Have you read The Golden Bough by Sir James George Fraser? A late Victorian exploration of religion and magic through the ages. Fascinating, foundational, & powerfully influential (though I'm sure it's been thoroughly exploded by others in the 130 years since).
 

Kjbartolotta

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Oh, yeah, World of the Witches by Julio Caro Baroja. Gets into the whole 'belief makes it happen' thing, but an all around great work on witchcraft, spells, folklore, and so on. Have a whole library of this stuff, but that's another good one to mention. The author has extensive experience with Basque culture and kinda side-claims to have knowledge of their secret folkloric traditions. People always say stuff like and who knows, but it's solid, if very 70's.
 
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dickson

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This is a large subject!

I can recommend a few sources, in no particular order:

"Ozark Magic and Folklore" Vance Randolph, originally "Ozark Superstition". Don't have the reference to hand. An encyclopediac account of the magical practices gathered under the rubric of Hoodoo. GREAT read.

"Magic in the Ancient World" by Fritz Graf, Harvard U. Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1997: Describes evidence for sorcerous practices in ancient Greece and Rome. I found it a good read.

"Sorcery in the Black Atlantic" Luis Pares and Roger Sansi, eds., U. Chicago Press, Chicago, 2011. I haven't finished this one yet, but it looks at the transmission of sorcerous practices from Africa to Brazil and Cuba, among others. Needless to say, much gets lost in translation . . .

"The Secret Commonwealth" Robert Kirk, New York Review Books, New York, 2007. A delightful eccentric essay on "elves, fauns and fairies" that touches on magical beliefs in 18th-century rural Scotland. Perhaps of most relevance to your query is the discussion of Second Sight, and its effects on those who possess it.

"Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook" Daniel Ogden Oxford U. Press, Oxon, 2009. Again, this is one I have not finished myself. Magical practices in classical antiquity are, in some ways, pretty well documented, vide. Graf's little book supra. Two well-known examples: Plato gave a detailed-and hostile-account of magicians and sorcerers in Periclean Athens, and in second-century Rome, Apuleius, author of The Golden Ass, left a written record of the defense he offered when he was tried for the crime of magic.

Finally, this one is not concerned directly with magical practices, but discusses many of them at length: "Religion and the Decline of Magic" Keith Thomas, Scribners, New York 1971. This book is a simply marvellous read, despite its length. The chapters on witchcraft are quite detailed.

I am aware of Evans-Pritchards' studies of magic and witchcraft among the Azande, but have not read his work. I did, however, watch a Horizon documentary based on that work, which was fascinating. "Witchcraft among the Azande", directed by André Singer (1981)

To generalize sweepingly, actual magical practices in (mostly rural) societies are quite common, and sometimes persist in urban environments, such as ancient Rome. They do not much resemble most fantasy fiction, much less anything out of Hollywood. Sorcery tends to be directed towards divination, curses, and spells to bring good fortune, by means of beseeching or compelling the dead, usually by forcing them to carry messages to the underworld. Azande magic was strongly focussed on detecting witchcraft-with the wrinkle that in Azande belief, one could be a witch and not realize it. Second Sight and divination were highly prized-but could easily become a curse.

My mother had some exposure to Vodoun growing up in Louisiana; even white girls would play at Gris-Gris! A colleague of mine intervened to prevent a woman from working a curse on her father at his funeral by sneaking an envelope with a letter invoking some form of (presumably Irish) maleficium into the decedent's coffin; an example of what Graf calls "the infernal postman." I'm sure even today, in rural communities, examples may be found.

I wish you luck in your search!
 

Stytch

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A colleague of mine intervened to prevent a woman from working a curse on her father at his funeral by sneaking an envelope with a letter invoking some form of (presumably Irish) maleficium into the decedent's coffin; an example of what Graf calls "the infernal postman."

Wait, wait, wait... She wanted to curse her already-dead father? Wild.
 

Elizabeth George's book Write Away