Sample Essay On Anthropology - Magic
According to Bowen, a common definition of magic is when objects are manipulated or spells are recited to achieve certain practical ends (101). In an attempt to explain what magic is, Frazer noted that magic is based on two principles: the law of similarity and the law of contact (contagion). The law of contact is based on the premise that an effect resembles its cause (like produces like). The law of contact on the other hand, states that things that have been in close contact will continue to be in the same way even if they are separated (Frazer, 261). From the law of contact, a magician always believes that he can produce an effect that he desires by simply imitating it. Based on the law of contact, the magician believes that anything he does to a material object would produce a similar and equal effect on the person with whom the object was in close contact with, this may be his or her body part or any other object. Frazer further classifies magic as homeopathic (founded on the associations by similarity) and contagious magic (founded on the ideas by contact).
Magic is closely related to the regular religious ritual. As Frazer noted, after the magicians discovered that magic did not work, they believed that there were several invisible agents (spirits) that secretly controlled nature apart from the natural laws governing nature (pg. 261). This was the birth of religion and magic. Bowen notes that the common definition of magic is the manipulation of objects or the recitation of spells to achieve practical ends (pg. 102). He also notes that religion is defined as when we appeal to the deities and God. Bowen further argues that people following a certain religion use objects, a certain way of speaking and states of mind to achieve certain practical ends (pg. 263). Practical ends may include healing, financial gains and success. This is similar to magic which manipulates objects and uses spells to achieve practical ends. People believe that through prayer, they can be healed the same way people believe in the power of magic. Achieving practical ends such as health, success and power among others appear to be the major goals of people who follow large scale religious organizations as well as the practitioners of the smaller ones that include magic.
Magic functions mainly as a result of the two principles that embody the practice, law of similarity (homeopathic magic) and law of contact (contagious magic). Homeopathic magic uses similarities, either natural or man-made, to achieve an end. Similarity occurs when an object of a person such as a doll or a picture of a person, when in altered in some way would result in a corresponding alteration in the real person. This is because “like attracts like.” With contagious magic, it is believed that the contact between two object mean that an action on one of the object would produce effects on the other. This is simply because they are in contact. Objects such as hair, nails or clothes of a person may be used to work magic on him or her. Contagious magic is evident in cases where people would hide their nails parings or hair clippings further away out of the concern that a bad magician may use them against their former owners (Frazer, 264-266).
According to Pritchard, witchcraft is the practice of magic and mystic beliefs. In studying the Zande tribe, Pritchard found out that witchcraft is the belief in supernatural powers that can be held by a number of individuals in the community (pg. 364). According to the Zande tribe, witchcraft explains unfortunate events, more so if the events are inexplicable and unusual. Any event that has been caused due to the violation of a social norm, carelessness or sorcery cannot be explained as witchcraft. Only the unusual events, those beyond human comprehension are the ones that can be explained by witchcraft. Witchcraft can be explained as a force that is outside people’s control. Pritchard at first did not see the Azande pre-logic but later on came to view them as making sense in explaining concepts that even science could not explain such as why the granaries fall down (365). Witchcraft is a people’s way of life that can be used to explain the most unusual events that cannot be explained by logic or attributed to evidence of evil, sorcery, breaking of social norms and carelessness.
Witchcraft is not an objective reality, but a belief in mystical powers present in the society (McPherson, 272). A community believing in witchcraft takes note that it exists everywhere and lives within witches. Witchcraft provides that community with a natural philosophy by which the relationships between men and unfortunate events in the society can be explained. Witchcraft beliefs, embraces a value system in the society that is used to regulate human conduct. Witchcraft would be used to explain all unfortunate events in the society unless a considerable amount of evidence would prove otherwise. Calamities such as drought, blight among the ground plants among, a person’s immense success among others can be attributable to witchcraft as there are no other logical explanations to them. With witchcraft and sorcery, there comes labeling that may be used to control deviance. The framework of the ideal societal values is grounded on the concepts of human nature and the obligations of human relations. With human relations, there exist behaviors that they may be labeled deviant and unacceptable. Offenders are slapped with sanctions and labeled as outcasts. The stigma and effects of labeling ensure that only the socially accepted behaviors are reinforced (McPherson, 275).
Divination is an important aspect of communities since it offers explanations of the unknown or the future (McPherson, 272). Witchcraft, among the Zande for example, is believed to be a danger since it is inherited and individuals may not know they are in possession of it. The may cause harm to the society and hence it is necessary to have divination to diagnose such. Different kinds of diviners exist including oracle mechanisms, diviners who must interpret complex oracles and spirit mediums. Oracle mediums require the performance of an experiment to determine and predict the unknown, for example benge among the Zande. Mechanical divination (by individuals who interpret complex oracles) is whereby behavior has to be interpreted by experts who manipulate them to seek answers. Spirit mediums, on the other hand, are men or women believed to be in possession of special powers to reveal hidden knowledge of the spirits. They act as mediums to the spirits.
Oracle mediums are used to identify the dreaded witches, like for the case of the Zande tribes where the oracle poison (benge) is fed to baby chickens. If the chicken dies, that would be the communication of oracle. Just like the oracle mechanisms, spirit mediums would identify sources of witchcraft and mystical sickness. For example, the Nyoro people of Uganda would consult people believed to be in possession of spirits (mbandwa) to reveal witchcraft. The oracle operators, on the other hand, are usually consulted when a person is in trouble or concerned about trouble in future. The oracle operators read a combination of symbols and interpret them using their special knowledge. For example, among the Zande, when the oracle poison is administered to the chicken, an oracle operator is summoned to explain the message of the oracle. All these types of diviners works towards explaining the hidden knowledge and meanings in witchcraft, magic and shamanistic power (McPherson, 273).
There are a number of ways by which religion can be used to achieve both political and economic gains for a society or country. In a situation of growing population pressure, the religious leadership may have to be called in to offer services such as psychological assurance resolve disputes within the society and enlarge possibilities within the trade industry (Hicks, 364). With the need to localize political processes, religious institutions offer local solutions. The tribal religious chief, such as the Kofyar Priest Chief influenced his subjects on how authority and justice was to be administered in his community. In Nigeria, the chief had responsibilities to ensure the health of his community members. This shows how important the religious leaders are to the political process. With regards to economic activities, religious centers play a role in boosting trade. For example, a market was established in Tivland to ensure the safe conduct of the travellers and protect the incoming slave traders. This made the trade to thrive due to these securities. It is important to note that religion can play a very important role in enhancing trade and economic activities.
Revitalization is defined as the deliberate, organized and conscious efforts by members of a given society to construct a more satisfying culture (Wallace, 456). It is a special type of cultural change. Religion is one tool that can be used to revitalize cultures on the brink of extinction after an environmental catastrophe, conquest and internal conflicts. In 1889, the Indian community had seen it all by losing their land, loss of resources, facing terrible epidemics and a lack of political autonomy. Many of the Indians suffered and had confined to a small parts of the country. The government never cared for them and had no intentions of doing so. It was only until prophet Jack Wilson came into the picture that the community was revitalized. After the total solar eclipse that year, Jack Wilson received a message from God and shared with all people. Given his accurate weather messages, his message became so popular. Even the Indians, who were suffering and on the brink of extinction listened to his message. Wilson preached about human behavior, aid and assistance, and unity. His preaching transcended the races and was greatly embraced by the Indians. This message which became universal was good for the Indians who at that time were suffering. With Wilson’s message, the Indians picked up and strengthened the bonds within themselves and became a more strong and vibrant culture with a sense of identity (Wallace, 458).
Bowen, John R. Religions in Practice: An Approach to the Anthropology of Religion. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1998. Print.
Evans-Pritchard, E E. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1937. Print.
Hicks, David. Ritual and Belief: Readings in the Anthropology of Religion. Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2010. Internet resource.
Mair, Lucy. Witchcraft. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969. Print.
McPherson, Naomi M. In Colonial New Guinea: Anthropological Perspectives. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001. Print.
Wallace, Anthony F. C. Revitalization Movements. Indianapolis, Ind: Bobbs-][Merrill Co, 1956. Print.