Marcel Mauss a general Theory of Magic



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According to Hewitt, among the Sioux the terms mahopa, Xube (Omaha), wakan (Dakota) also mean magical power and magical qualities.
Among the Shoshone the word pokunt generally (according to Hewitt) has the same value, the same meaning as manitou has among the Algonquin. J. W. Fewkes, who has recorded material on the Hopi or Moki, states that among the Pueblo in general the same ideas are at the bottom of all magical and religious ritual. J. Mooney appears to be referring to the same kind of thing among the Kiowa.
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The term naual in Mexico and Central America seems to us to correspond to the same idea. Here it is so persistent and widespread that it has been applied to all systems of religion and magic by referring to the whole as nagualism. Naual is a totem, usually an individual totem. However, it is more than this: it covers a much wider category. The sorcerer is naual-he is a naulli; naual is his power to transform himself, his metamorphosis and his incarnation. It is, therefore, clear that an individual totem, an animal species which is associated with the person from birth, is but one form of naual. Etymologically, according to Seler, the word means 'secret science', and all its different meanings and derivatives are connected with its original meaning of 'thought' and 'spirit'. In nauhatl texts the word expresses the idea of being hidden, enveloped, disguised. Thus, it seems to us that the term contains the idea of a separate, mysterious, spiritual power, which is exactly what is implied in magic.
In Australia, we find a concept of a similar kind. Here it is clearly restricted to magical activities, and more particularly to black magic. The Perth tribes give it the name of boolya. In New South Wales, the tribes use the word koochie to describe an evil spirit, personal or impersonal evil influences, and it probably has the same extension. Again we find the arungquiltha of the Arunta. This 'evil' power, which is conjured up in rites of sympathetic magic, is at one and the same time a force and an object in itself which is described in myths and to which they attribute a specific origin.
The fact that our examples of this idea of 'power-milieu' are few and far between, should not lead us into any doubt about the universality of the institution. We are, in fact, poorly informed on these kinds of facts. The Iroquois have been known for three centuries, but it was only a year ago that our attention was drawn to orenda. And indeed, the idea may well exist without having been expressed: people have no more need to express ideas like these than they need to formulate the rules of their grammar. In
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magic, as in religion and linguistics, unconscious ideas are at work. In some cases, the people have not become fully aware of these ideas. In others, they have passed the intellectual stage in which they normally function. At all events, they have not been able to provide an adequate expression of the phenomena. Some people have removed the earlier, mystical aspects of their old beliefs in magical power. Magic then becomes quasi-scientific in nature; this happened in Greece. Others have formulated entire dogmas, mythologies and demonologies and, as a result, have reduced everything that they found to be vague and obscure in their magical representations to mythical terms, which-at least on the surface-replaced the idea of magical power with the devil, demons or metaphysical entities. This was the case in India. They have thereby brought about the almost total disappearance of the idea.
Nevertheless, we find glimpses of it. In India it crops up under such separate notions as brightness, glory, force, destruction, fate, remedy, the qualities of plants. And the basic idea of Hindu pantheism, contained in brahman, seems to us to be profoundly connected with it. It even appears to perpetuate the idea-as long as we can hypothetically assume that the Vedic brahman, the Upanishads and Hindu philosophy are one and the same. Briefly, we believe that there has been a veritable metempsychosis of ideas. Although we can grasp its beginning and end, we are ignorant of the intermediary stages. In both the most ancient and more modern of the Vedic texts, the word bráhman (neuter) means prayer, formula, rite, the magic or religious power of the rite. The magician or priest is called by the name of brahmán (masculine). Between these two terms there is only sufficient difference to separate the diversity of functions. There is not enough difference to signify any opposition between the two ideas. The brahmanical caste is the caste of the brâhmanas, that is men who possess bráhman. Bráhman is that which activates men and gods, referring particularly to the voice. In addition to these
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facts, we have certain texts which refer to it as the substance, the core of things (pratyantam)-the innermost part; these are all Atharvanic texts, that is, Veda texts of magicians. However, the idea has already begun to be confused with that of the newly introduced god Brahmâ, a masculine word, derived from Bráhman. Bráhman ritual no longer appears in theosophical texts and we are left with metaphysical bráhman. Bráhman becomes the active, distinct and immanent principle of the whole universe. Only bráhman is real, all else is illusion. As a result, anyone who would enter the bosom of bráhman through mystical activities (yoga: union) becomes a yogi, a yogicvara, a siddha, that is, one who has gained all magical powers (siddhi: obtaining), and in this way, it is said, has placed himself in the position of creating worlds. Bráhman is the prime, total, separate, animate and inert spirit of the universe; it is the quintessence. It is also the triple Veda as well as the fourth, that is to say, religion and magic.
In India alone the mystical basis of the idea has survived. In Greece we have little more than its scientific framework. We find it under the concept of , on which, in the final analysis the alchemists depended, and also in, the last resort of astrology, physics and magic. is the action of and is the action of . can be defined as a kind of material soul, non-individual, transmissible, a kind of unconscious understanding of things. It comes, in fact, very close to the idea of mana.
From the foregoing, we feel justified in concluding that a concept, encompassing the idea of magical power, was once found everywhere. It involves the notion of automatic efficacy. At the same time as being a material substance which can be localized, it is also spiritual. It works at a distance and also through a direct connexion, if not by contact. It is mobile and fluid without having to stir itself. It is impersonal and at the same time clothed in personal forms. It is divisible yet whole. Our own ideas about luck and quintessence are but weak survivals of this
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much richer concept. As we have seen, as well as being a force, it is also a milieu, a world separated from-but still in touch with-the other. In order to explain more clearly how the world of magic is superimposed on the other world without detaching itself from it, we might go further and add that everything happens as if it were part of a fourth spatial dimension. An idea like mana expresses, in a way, this occult existence. This image applies so well to magic that modern magicians, confronted with the discovery that geometry had more than three dimensions, took over these speculations to legitimize their own rites and ideas.


All this provides us with an idea of what goes on in magic. It provides us with a necessary concept of a field where ritual occurs, where the magician is active, a place where spirits come alive and where magical effluvia are wafted. It also legitimizes the magician's powers and justifies the need for formal actions, the creative virtue of words, sympathetic connexions and the transfer of properties and influences. Moreover, it explains the presence of spirits and their intervention, since it conceives all magical force as being spiritual force. Finally, it motivates general beliefs in magic, since all magic may be reduced to this idea, once it has shed its outer form. At the same time it further encourages these beliefs, since it is the very idea which animates all the forms assumed by magic.
This concept means that the reality of magic need no longer be brought into question; doubts may even be turned to its advantage. It is an idea which is, in fact, the very condition of magical experimentation and permits the most unfavourable facts to have the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, it is above all criticism. It exists, a priori, before all other experience. Properly speaking, it is not a magical representation in the same way as those representations of sympathy, demons and magical properties. It produces magical representations and is a condition of them. It functions as a kind of category, making magical ideas possible in the same way as we have categories which make
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human ideas possible. The function, which we are attributing to it here, of an unconscious category of understanding, is truly brought out by the facts. We have already pointed out that it was uncommon for it to become part of a people's consciousness and even more uncommon for it to find any expression. The fact is that it is inherent in magic in the same way that Euclid's propositions are inherent in our concepts of space.
Of course, it will be clear that it is a category which does not exist in an individual's understanding in the same way as our categories of time and space. The proof of this lies in the fact that it has been so considerably reduced owing to the progress made by civilization, and that its character changes from society to society and according to the different life styles found in one society. It is present in an individual's consciousness purely as a result of the existence of society, in the same way as ideas of moral value and justice. We are confident that we are dealing with a category of collective thinking.
Our analysis also brings out the fact that mana is an idea of the same order as the idea of the sacred. In the first case, the two ideas merge in a number of instances. Notable examples include the idea of manitou among the Algonquins, the orenda of the Iroquois and mana in Melanesia, which are all magical as well as religious. Further, we have already seen that in Melanesia there is a relationship between the ideas of mana and taboo: a certain number of things with mana were taboo, but only mana objects could be taboo. The same holds good for the Algonquin: all gods are manitous, but all manitous are not gods. As a result, we find that not only is the idea of mana more general than that of the sacred, but that the sacred is inherent in the notion of mana and derives from it. It would probably be fair to say that the sacred is a species of the genus mana. In this way, as far as magical ritual is concerned we would not only have found more than the idea of the sacred, but we would find the substratum of the whole.
However, let us return to the dilemma of our preface. Either
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magic is a social phenomenon and the idea of the sacred is also a social phenomenon, or magic is not a social phenomenon and neither is the idea of the sacred. Without wishing to enter into any discussion on the nature of the sacred itself, we should like to make a number of points in order to stress the social aspect of both magic and mana. The quality of mana-and of the sacred-appertains to things which are given a very definite position in society, often to the extent of their being considered to exist outside the normal world and normal practices. These things play a very considerable role in magic; they provide, in fact, its living forces.
Magical beings and magical things notably include the souls of the dead and everything associated with death. Witness the eminently magical character of the universal practice of evoking the dead. Witness the qualities attributed to the 'hand of death', any contact which makes objects invisible in the same way as death does-and a thousand other facts. The dead themselves are the focus of funeral ceremonies and, sometimes, ancestor cults, which mark so clearly the different status of the dead in relation to the living. You may object that magic only concerns people who die violent deaths, particularly criminals. This is further proof of the point we wish to make here. Persons may be the object of beliefs and rites which convert them into beings of quite a different sort, not only from the living but also from the rest of the dead. Nevertheless, on the whole, all dead people, both bodies and spirits, form a separate world from that of the living, a world from which the magician derives his powers to kill, his black magic.
The same applies to women. It is because they have a special social status that they are thought to play important magical roles, considered to be sorceresses, attributed with special powers. Female attributes are qualitatively different from men's and give them specific powers. Menstruation, the mysterious actions of sex and childbirth are signs of those qualities ascribed
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to them. Society-the society of men-nourishes strong social sentiments toward women, which the latter both respect and share. From this stems their different-inferior-legal status and particularly their different religious status. It is precisely these factors which determine their role in magic, and in magic they enjoy a status the opposite to that which they hold in religion. Women are a constant source of malignant influence. Nirrtir hi strî, 'woman is death', say the old brahmanical texts (Maitrayânî samhitâ, 1, 10, 11). They bring misery and witchcraft. They possess the evil eye. It is for this reason that they play a more important role in magic than in religion, although they are, in fact, far less active than men would have us believe.
These two examples show how the magical value of persons or things results from the relative position they occupy within society or in relation to society. The two separate notions of magical virtue and social position coincide in so far as one depends on the other. Basically in magic it is always a matter of the respective values recognized by society. These values do not depend, in fact, on the intrinsic qualities of a thing or a person, but on the status or rank attributed to them by all-powerful public opinion, by its prejudices. They are social facts not experimental facts. And this is excellently demonstrated by the magical power of words and the fact that very often the magical power of an object derives from its name. Consequently, since they depend on dialects and languages, the values in question are tribal or national ones. In the same way, things and beings and actions are organized hierarchically, controlling one another, and magical actions are produced according to this ordering: they go from the magician to a class of spirits, from this class to another, and so on, until they achieve their effect. The reason why we like Hewitt's phrase 'magic potence', which he uses to describe mana and orenda is because it brings out precisely the presence of a kind of magical potential, and it is, in fact, exactly the idea we have been describing. What we call the relative
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position or respective value of things could also be called a difference in potential, since it is due to such differences that they are able to affect one another. It is not enough to say that the quality of mana is attributed to certain things because of the relative position they hold in society. We must add that the idea of mana is none other than the idea of these relative values and the idea of these differences in potential. Here we come face to face with the whole idea on which magic is founded, in fact with magic itself. It goes without saying that ideas like this have no raison d'être outside society, that they are absurd as far as pure reason is concerned and that they derive purely and simply from the functioning of collective life.
We in no way wish to imply that this hierarchy of ideas, dominated by mana, is the product of multiple, artificial contracts between individuals either magicians or ordinary laymen, ideas which traditionally came to be accepted in the name of reason, in spite of being crammed with initial errors. On the contrary, we hold that magic, along with religion, has to deal with sentiments. To be more precise, we would affirm, using the abstruse language of modern theology, that magic, like religion, is a game, involving 'value judgments', expressive aphorisms which attribute different qualities to different objects entering the system. However, these value judgments are not the work of individual spirits. They are the expression of social sentiments which are formed-sometimes inexorably and universally, sometimes fortuitously-with regard to certain things, chosen for the most part in an arbitrary fashion: plants, animals, occupations, sex, heavenly bodies, the elements, physical phenomena, landscape patterns, materials, etc. The idea of man, like the idea of the sacred, becomes in any final analysis nothing more than a kind of category of collective thinking which is the foundation for our judgments and which imposes a classification on things, separating some, bringing together others, establishing lines of influence or boundaries of isolation.
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4
COLLECTIVE STATES AND COLLECTIVE FORCES
We might end here and conclude that magic is a social phenomenon, since we have uncovered the notion of collectivity behind all of its manifestations. However, in its present form, the idea of mana still seems to us to be too cut off from social life; there is still something too intellectual about it. We have no clear idea whence it comes, on what foundations it flourished. Therefore, we shall try to dig deeper still, in order to reach those forces, those collective forces, which we claim to have produced magic and of which mana is the expression.
In order to do this, let us consider for a moment magical representations and magical practices as judgments. We are justified in doing so, because all kinds of magical representations take the form of judgments, and all kinds of magical operations proceed from judgments, or at least from rational decisions. Take the following examples: the magician conjures up his astral body; clouds are produced by smoking such-and-such a herb; a spirit is moved by the ritual. We shall now see-in a completely dialectical or critical fashion, if you like, to use the useful if obscure language of Kantian philosophy-that judgments like these are explained only in society and through society's intervention.
Are they analytical judgments? We have to ask this question, since both the magician who produces his theory of magic and the anthropologist who does likewise have attempted to reduce them to analytical terms. The magician, they say, reasons from like to like by applying the law of sympathy, thinking in terms of his powers or his auxiliary spirits. The rite causes the spirits to work, by definition. The magician conjures up his astral body because this body is himself. The smoking of the aquatic plant brings a cloud because it is a cloud. However, we have clearly shown that this reduction to analytical terms is quite theoretical and that things really happen otherwise in the magician's mind.
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His judgments always involve a heterogeneous term, which is irreducible to any logical analysis. This term is force or power, or mana. The idea of magical efficacy is ever present and plays far from an accessory part, since it enjoys the same role which the copula plays in a grammatical clause. It is this which presents the magical idea, gives it being, reality, truth, makes it so powerful.
Let us continue to use the methods of philosophy. Are magical judgments synthetic judgments a posteriori? Do their syntheses, on which they depend, exist ready made in an individual's experience? We have found that the experience of our senses has never furnished any proof of a magical judgment. Objective reality has never imposed any proposition-of the kind we formulated above-on the human mind. Obviously you need the eyes of faith to see an astral body, the smoke that brings rain, and (most particularly in this case) an invisible spirit which obeys ritual.
There are others who say that these propositions result from subjective experience, on the part either of individuals concerned in the rite or of the magician. They say that the former see these things happening because they want to and that the latter undergoes hallucinatory states, dreams and ecstasies, in which impossible syntheses become logical. We should not wish to play down the importance of wish-fulfilment and dreams in magic; we are merely leaving this subject aside for the moment. Yet even if we were to admit for a moment that there are two levels of human experience, the merging of which produces magic, we should soon discover-if we were to consider individuals only-that these levels do not coincide as far as spirits are concerned. Imagine for a moment-if you possibly can-the state of mind of a sick Australian Aborigine who calls in a sorcerer. Obviously a series of suggestive phenomena takes place in the man's mind and he will either be cured through hope or allow himself to die, convinced that he has been condemned to do so. Beside him the shaman dances, falls into a cataleptic fit,
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has dreams. His dreams take him up into the other world and when he comes back, deeply affected by his long journey into the world of souls, animals and spirits, he cunningly extracts a small pebble from the patient's body, which he says is the evil spell which has caused the illness. Obviously there are two subjective experiences involved in these facts. And between the dreams of one and the desires of the other there is a discordant factor. Apart from the sleight of hand at the end, the magician makes no effort to make his ideas coincide with the ideas and needs of his client. These two very intense individual states coincide only at the moment of the conjuring trick. At this unique moment a genuine psychological experience takes place, either on the part of the magician-who can hardly be under any delusion at this stage-or on that of the patient. The so-called experience of the magician is no more than an error of perception, which would be unable to answer criticism and consequently be unrepeatable, if it were not sustained by tradition or a permanent act of faith. Individual subjective states, just as poorly adjusted as the ones we have pointed out, cannot in themselves explain the objectivity, the universality and the apodictic nature of magical statements.
All these things are beyond criticism because people do not want to question them. All over the world where magic flourishes, magical judgments existed prior to magical experience. They are the canons of the ritual, the links in the chain of representations. Experiences occur only in order to confirm them and almost never succeed in refuting them. You may object and point out that these judgments are historical or traditional facts, and that at the origin of each rite or myth there was once a real individual experience. However, there is no need to follow up this idea of primary causes since we have already said that magical beliefs are dominated by a universal belief in magic which goes beyond the fields of individual psychology. It is this belief which allows people to objectivize their subjective ideas
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and generalize individual illusions. Again, it is this belief which gives magical judgments their affirmative, inevitable and absolute character. In brief, while they exist in the minds of individuals, magical judgments, even from the outset, are-as we have pointed out-well nigh perfect, a priori, synthetic judgments. The terms are connected before any kind of testing. However, it must be made clear that we have no wish to imply that magic does not demand analysis or testing. We are only saying that it is poorly analytical, poorly experimental and almost entirely a priori.



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