Marcel Mauss a general Theory of Magic



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We have already mentioned witches' familiars. It is difficult to distinguish these from those animals with whom magicians have a totemic kinship or some other kind of relationship. They are, or can be considered to be, spirits. As for the spirits they usually have animal forms, either real or fantastic. Moreover, the twin themes of animal familiars and spirit auxiliaries share the notion that the magician derives his power from a source external to himself. His magical skills derive from an association with partners who maintain a certain independence. As with the separating of the magician's soul from his body, this association varies in degree and form. It may be quite tenuous, consisting merely of the simple power of occasionally communing with the spirits. The magician knows where they dwell, knows their language and through ritual is able to contact them. These are usually the kinds of relationship a person has with the dead, with fairies and other spirits of this kind (the Hantus of the Malays, the Iruntarinias of the Arunta, the Hindu Devatâs, etc.). In several of the Melanesian islands the magician usually derives his power from the souls of his dead kinsfolk.

Kinship is a common factor in the relations between a magician and the spirits. He is said to have a father, a mother or an ancestor who is a spirit being. In India today a certain number of families claim that their magical gifts originated this way. In Wales, families who monopolize the so-called magical arts are said to be descended from the union of a man and a fairy. More commonly, however, the relationship between a magician and a spirit is described as a kind of contract or pact, either tacit or expressed, general or particular, permanent or temporary. Here we have a kind of legal tie binding the two parties. In the Middle Ages these pacts were written deeds, sealed by blood with which it was written or signed. They were in fact blood pacts. In fairy tales these contracts appear in less solemn form-as a wager, a race or an ordeal-in which the spirit, the demon or the devil usually loses the contest.

People often like to envisage these relations under a sexual guise: witches have incubi and women who have nightmares about incubi are considered to be witches. This situation is found in places as far apart as Europe and New Caledonia, and no doubt elsewhere. The European sabbath inevitably conjures up images of sexual escapades involving witches and devils. These relations may even result in marriage or a permanent contract. It is the kind of relationship which is far from being a subsidiary feature of magic. In the Middle Ages and also in Greco-Roman times they helped provide a positive picture of the magician. The witch has always been considered a lascivious creature, a kind of courtesan, and it was as a result of the controversy engendered by the concubitus daemonum which shed a good deal of light on the nature of magic. The many different ways of expressing the relationship between a demon and a magician may be found together. For example, there is the story of a Rajput who, having made a female glanders' spirit his prisoner, took her to his home and to this day it is thought that the descendants of the couple have an hereditary power over the wind. It is possible to see in this example the themes of play, pact and kinship at the same time.

These relations are not externally or incidentally conceived, but profoundly affect the physical and moral condition of the magician. He bears the mark of his ally, the devil. Australian sorcerers have holes made in their tongues by the spirits; their stomachs may have been opened up and their entrails refurbished, so to speak. In the Banks Islands some sorcerers have their tongues pierced by a green snake (maé). The magician usually is capable of being possessed, like the wizard-a fact which rarely applies to the priest. Moreover, he is conscious of it and generally knows the spirit who possesses him. Belief in possessed witches is universal. In Christian Europe the belief was so widely held that witches were exorcized. Conversely, possessed persons are generally considered to be witches. And not only are the powers and status of a magician explained through the fact of his being possessed; in many cases of magical systems, possession plays the fundamental role in all magical activities. Shamanism in Siberia and Malaysia is universal. When the sorcerer is possessed he not only feels the presence of a new person within him, but his own personality succumbs to the power of the demon, and it is this spirit which speaks words through his mouth. Excluding the many cases of feigned possession-which anyway imitate the real state-we find that we are dealing with psychological and physiological states, involving the splitting of a person's personality. It is a remarkable fact that a magician, to a certain extent, can control his possession; he brings it on by appropriate practices, such as dancing, monotonous music or intoxication. To sum up, one of the magician's professional qualifications, which is not only mythical but practical, is the power of being possessed and it is a skill at which they have long been expert. From both the individual's and society's point of view, sending out a soul or receiving one are two ways of looking at the same phenomena. In the case of the individual, his personality undergoes a change; as far as society is concerned the magician is being carried off into the world of spirits. These two types of representation may sometimes coincide: the Sioux or Ojibway shaman who performs only when possessed, acquires his animal manitou only during excursions of the soul.

All myths about magicians have certain features in common. We should not have had to dwell on them at such length if they did not provide hints concerning society's opinion about magicians. A magician is seen in terms of his relationship with animals as well as his relationship with spirits, and in the last analysis he is seen in terms of his own soul. The liaison between a magician and his spirit often develops into a complete identity one with the other. This is, of course easier if the magician and the magic spirit bear the same name, and this is so frequent it almost amounts to a rule. Generally there is no need to distinguish one from the other. In this way we can see to what extent magicians exist outside the norm. This is particularly so when their souls have left their bodies, that is to say when they are performing. Thus, as we said earlier, they really belong more to the world of the spirits than to the world of men.

Thus, if a man does not qualify as a magician through his social status, he may nevertheless do so because of the coherent representations which are directed at him. A magician is a man who has special qualifications-special relationships and, more particularly, special powers. It is one of the highest classed professions and probably one of the first to be so. It is so bound up with social qualifications that individuals cannot simply join independently of their own accord. And there have been many examples of magicians who were forced, in spite of themselves, to join the fraternity.

It is public opinion which makes the magician and creates the power he wields. Thanks to public opinion he knows everything and can do anything. If nature holds no secrets from him, if he draws his powers from the primary sources of light, from the sun, the planets, the rainbow or the depths of all water, it is public opinion which desires that he should. Moreover, society does not always credit all magicians with unlimited powers or, indeed, the same powers. For the most part, even in closely knit units of society, magicians possess varied powers. Not only is the magician's profession a specialized one, but the profession itself has its own specialized features and functions.

2 Initiation, magic in society By what process does public opinion accept a person as a magician and how does he himself achieve this status? Individuals become magicians through revelation, through consecration and through tradition. This threefold process of qualification has been pointed out by observers and magicians alike, and very often results in distinguishing different categories of sorcerers. The Sutra of Patanjali mentioned previously (iv, I) says that 'siddhi (magical powers) derive from birth, from plants, formulas, from ascetic fervour and ecstasy'.

Revelation occurs whenever a man believes himself to be in contact with one or more spirits, who place themselves at his service and teach him doctrine. This kind of initiation provides the theme of many myths and tales which can be either very simple or very complex. The simple type includes variations on the theme of Mephistopheles and Faust; but there are others which are very elaborate. Among the Murring, the would-be sorcerer (murup, spirit) sleeps on the grave of an old woman. He has to cut away the skin of her stomach and while he is sleeping the skin, that is the murup, of the old woman, transports him beyond the vault of the sky where he meets the spirits and the gods who pass on to him secret rites and formulas. When he wakes he finds that his body has been stuffed full of pieces of quartz, like a medicine bag. During rites later, he removes them from his mouth as gifts and tokens received from the spirit world. In this case, the magician travels to the world of the spirits. In others, it is the spirit who comes to seek out the magician, and revelation is thus achieved through possession, as among the Sioux and Malays. In both these cases, the magician obtains advantages of a permanent nature through momentary contact with the spirits. To obtain the permanence of this magical transformation, it is said that the magician's personality has been profoundly modified, as we have already described. The spirits have refashioned his entrails, beaten him with their weapons, bitten him on the tongue-among the central Australian tribes the hole in his tongue is proof of the treatment meted out to the magician. It is expressly stated that the novice actually dies in order to be reborn after his revelation.


The idea of a temporary death is a common theme in both magical and religious initiations. But magicians depend more on the tales of these resurrections than others do. To diverge a moment from our set field of study, we shall mention a tale of the Baffin Land Eskimoes. A man who wished to become an angekok was killed by the initiating angekok expert. For a week he remained in a frozen state during which time his soul wandered through the ocean deeps, far into the bowels of the earth and high into the sky, learning nature's secrets. When the angekok woke him up again-blowing on each of his limbs-he had become an angekok himself. Here we have a picture of a complete revelation, in several stages, including personal revelation, travelling in the world of the spirits, learning the science of magic-in sum, acquiring knowledge of the universe.
Magical powers are obtained through the separation of the soul from the body. In the case of the shaman, however, separation and possession must be constantly repeated. For the
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magician these initiatory separations need occur only once in his lifetime and provide him with permanent advantages. However, they are necessary, even obligatory, at least once. In fact, the mythical representations really parallel the actual initiatory ceremonies. The individual goes to sleep in the forest on a grave, carries out a series of tasks, gives himself up to ascetic practices, deprivations and taboos, which are rites in themselves. In addition, the individual falls into a state of ecstasy and has visions, which are not purely imaginary even when the magician initiates them himself.
But it is more common for other magicians to take part. Among the Shames an old paja induces the initiates' first ecstasies. Moreover, it usually happens that the novice is put through an actual ordination rite, with practising magicians in charge of the ceremony. The Arunta, as well as practising initiation by spirits, also undergo initiations by magicians, with ascetic rituals, frictions, unctions and a whole series of ceremonies, during the course of which the novice absorbs small pebbles (symbols of magical power) which come from his sponsor. In the Greek manuscripts we possess a lengthy handbook on magical ordinations, the (Dietrich, Abraxus, p. 116 et seq.), which reveals in detail every stage of similar ceremonies involving purification, sacrificial ritual, invocation and, to crown all, a mythical revelation explaining the secrets of the universe. So complex a ritual is not always essential. Ordination may be achieved through a communal evocation of the spirits (which is what happens in the case of the Straits Malay pawang) or a simple presentation of the novice to the spirits in a holy place (as in Melanesia, for example). At all events, magical initiation produces the same results as other types of initiation: it causes a change in the personality, which may sometimes be expressed, if so desired, by a change of name. Once and for all an intimate relationship is set up between an individual and his supernatural allies, a kind of permanent possession. In some societies magical
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initiation often merges in with religious initiation. The Red Indian Iroquois or Sioux acquire their medicines the moment they become members of the secret society. We hazard the conjecture-although there is no absolute proof-that the same applies in some Melanesian societies.
When initiatory rites become simplified, they end up resembling traditional lore, pure and simple. Magical lore, however, has never been anything quite so simple or banal. In fact, when the teacher communicates his formulas, he and the novice as well as the members of his entourage-if there are any-strike extraordinary attitudes. The adept is said to be-and he himself believes it-one of the elect. It is all very solemn and the mystery associated with it does not detract from the solemnity. It is accompanied by rites and lustrations, and hedged in by taboos; the time and place are chosen with care. In some cases the transmission of very serious details of magical lore is preceded by a kind of cosmological revelation on which it appears to depend. Often magical secrets are imparted only under certain conditions. Even a person who has bought a charm cannot dispose of it at will outside the contract. A charm which is transferred improperly to another person loses any powers it had or reacts on the person who has it. Folklore all over the world provides an infinite number of such examples. In these practices we have hints of a state of mind which exists each time magical knowledge is transmitted from one person to another, even magic of the most common kind. The way this kind of lore-this pact-is transmitted shows that even if the secrets do pass from hand to hand, the knowledge is really the prerogative of a closed group. Revelation, initiation and the handing down of traditional lore are, from this point of view, equivalent. Each in its own way marks the fact that a new member has joined the magician's association.
It is not only public opinion which considers magicians to be a class apart; they believe it themselves as well. Although they are
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outsiders, as we pointed out earlier, they also form magical corporations recruited through heredity or through voluntary membership. Greek writers mention families of magicians and they were also found in Celtic countries, in India, Malaysia and Melanesia. Magic is a kind of wealth which is carefully kept in the family. It need not necessarily be passed down the same line as other kinds of property. In parts of Melanesia, where matriliny is the rule, magic is inherited from father to son; in Wales it seems that mothers handed it down to sons, while fathers bequeathed it to the daughters. In societies where voluntary secret societies for men play an important role, the association of magicians and the secret society usually overlap. The magicians' associations mentioned in the Greek parchments parallel similar mystical Alexandrine societies. On the whole, where there are groups of magicians it is difficult to distinguish them from religious groups. It is clear that in the Middle Ages, magic was always seen as the work of fraternities. Our earliest texts mention witch covens and we find the same thing in the myth of the cavalcade which followed Diana, and then in the sabbath. This is clearly an exaggerated view, despite the fact that magical sects and witchcraft epidemics are well attested. Yet, while we must take exaggerated public opinion and myth into account when studying these families and sects of magicians, there is sufficient evidence to show that magic must always have functioned, at least partly, in small groups of the kind which today are formed by believers in the occult. Moreover, even when there is no formal grouping of magicians, we have in fact a professional class and this class has rules which are obeyed implicitly. We find that magicians usually follow a set of rules, which is a corporate discipline. These rules sometimes consist of a search for moral virtues and ritual purity, sometimes of a certain solemnity in their comportment, and also in other ways. The point is that they are professionals who deck themselves out with the trappings of a profession.
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There may be people who will object to what we have been saying about the social character of these practitioners of magic by saying there is a folk magic which exists and is not performed by qualified persons; we can only reply that here the agents always try to resemble, as far as possible, their idea of a magician. Moreover, we should point out that this folk magic exists only in the form of survivals, in very simple little communities, hamlets or families. And we could maintain, not without some semblance of reason, that these small communities, whose members vaguely reproduce the same magical gestures of their forebears, are well and truly associations of magicians.
2
THE ACTIONS
The actions of a magician are rites. In describing them we shall demonstrate how well they correspond to our whole concept of ritual. We should point out that in collections of folklore they are often presented in forms which seem very uncomplicated, very commonplace. If the folklorists had not informed us that they were, in fact, rites, we should be inclined to consider them as everyday gestures, entirely lacking any special character. Their apparent simplicity, however, is a result of their being poorly described or poorly observed; or else they are shadows of their former selves. We shall obviously avoid those poorly described, limited rituals in our search for the typical features of magical rites.
Fortunately we possess descriptions of a great number of rites which are very complex indeed. Hindu sympathetic rites, for example, are extraordinarily intricate (Kaucika sûtra, 47-9). A whole range of wooden materials of ill-omen are required, along with herbs chopped in special ways, special kinds of oil, pieces of charred wood. People face a different direction from that adopted in rites of good fortune. The ritual is performed in a lonely place where the land is waste on special days
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described in esoteric terms and clearly referring to evil auguries-and in shady spots (aroka), under an evil asterism. Then comes the special initiation rite, a long one, for the person involved-a dîskâ, according to the commentary (Kecava ad sû 12), similar to the initiation undergone in holy sacrifices. It is the Brahman, at this point, who becomes the protagonist of the main rite, or rather rites, which constitute the sympathetic magic proper. It is impossible to judge from the texts whether the thirty-two types of rites we have counted (47, 23 to 49, 27), many of which have as many as three forms, are merely part of one huge ceremony or whether they are theoretically distinct one from the other. Nevertheless, even the least complicated of them, performed in a mud shelter (49, 23), lasts no fewer than twelve days. The magic finishes with a ritual purification (49, 27). Imprecatory ritual among the Cherokee and the Pitta-Pitta in Queensland are hardly simpler. Finally, our Greek parchments and Assyrian texts give rituals of exorcization and divination which are no less elaborate.
1 The conditions of the rites In beginning an analysis of rites in general, we should first point out that magical precepts not only include one or more central operations, but also enumerate a certain number of dependent observances, which are exactly akin to those which accompany religious ritual. Every time we come across genuine rituals or liturgical manuals, a precise enumeration of these circumstantial details is always included.
The time and place of the ritual are strictly prescribed. Some ceremonies may take place only at night, or at special hours of the night-at midnight, for example. Others occur at special times in the day, at sunset or sunrise-two periods which are specially magical. The day of the week is also laid down: Friday, for example, is the witches' sabbath, although without prejudice to other days. As soon as the notion of a regular week exists, rites take place on particular days. Similarly, special periods of the
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month are favourable, and probably almost always depend on the waxing and waning of the moon. Lunar dates are the ones most commonly fixed for the times of observance. In ancient India all magical rites theoretically involved sacrifices to the new moon or the full moon. It seems from older texts and also from modern descriptions that the brighter half of the month was reserved for rites of good omen, while the darker dates were devoted to those of evil omen. The course of the astral bodies, the conjunctions and oppositions of the moon, the sun and the planets, the positions of the stars, are all taken into consideration. It was in this way that astrology became part and parcel of magic. Some of our Greek magical texts are even found in works of astrology, and in India, in the astrological-astronomical texts of the later Middle Ages, the whole of the latter section is devoted to magic. The month and the order of the year in a general cycle are also sometimes taken into consideration. Solstitial and equinoctial days and particularly their eves, intercalary days, great festivals-of the Christian saints, for example-are all periods which are held to be special and exceptionally propitious. Of course, it sometimes happens that all these rules and regulations become so hopelessly entangled that perfect conditions can very rarely be realized. If the Hindu magicians are to be believed, some of their rights could be practised successfully only once every forty-five years.
Magic is not performed just anywhere, but in specially qualified places. Magic as well as religion has genuine sanctuaries. There are cases where such sanctuaries are used for both purposes, in Melanesia and Malaysia, for example. In modern India the altar of the village deity is also used for magical purposes and in Christian Europe some magical rites must perforce be performed in church, even on the altar. In other cases sites are chosen specifically because religious rites cannot be performed there-because they are impure, or in some way considered special. Cemeteries, crossroads, woods, marshes, rubbish
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heaps-are all places where ghosts and demons may be found and are highly favoured for the performance of magic. Ceremonies are also carried out on the boundaries of village and field, on thresholds, hearths, rooftops, on central beams, streets, roads or paths, in any place, in fact, which has some specific use. A minimal qualification in these cases requires that the spot has some correlation with the object of the rite. In order to harm an enemy they spit towards his house or at his feet. If the spot has no special characteristic the magician may draw a magical circle or square, a templum, around him and he performs his magic inside this.
It is clear, therefore, that magic, along with sacrifice, has provision for determining the time and place of ritual. There are other provisions. During ritual, materials and tools are employed which are not just everyday things. Their choice and preparation are made ritually and they are themselves also subject to special conditions of time and place. The Cherokee shaman goes off herb-hunting at a certain day of the moon, always at daybreak; he collects the herbs in a particular order, picking them with particular fingers, being careful not to let his shadow fall on the leaves and performing ritual peregrinations beforehand. Lead is taken from a bath, earth from a cemetery and so on. The confection or preparation of these materials, the ritual ingredients, is a long and finicking business. In India everything that goes into an amulet or a philtre is first of all chewed, and rubbed a long time in advance and in a strictly prescribed fashion. Magical objects, while they may not be consecrated in a religious sense, are at least medicated, and this provides them with a kind of magical consecration.



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