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Witches (1): Magic - What is it? Where does it come from?

Ariane Cabral de Melo | 10 January, 2022

To talk about witches is to talk about magic. But what is magic? And where does it come from?

What is the concept of magic, with instruments from the context of the middle ages that will be used and that became extremely linked to the art of witchcraft, remembering even here that I am going to address a concept that has always been changing and has been changing over the centuries, but that is distinguished and mainly by three elements that are in fact the three bases of European culture and stays there because personally, the third quarter has a connection with religious practices today?

One thing that has to be pointed out is that magic is often understood as something that deviates from the norm as a deviant force concerning religious and scientific thought.

Magic is operated by a set of practices, ranging from alchemical geology to enchantments, sorcery amulets, herbalism, and other practices as well, such as Necromancy, based on the principle that the natural world with their hidden time that human beings can appropriate or borrow for practical purposes, both for good and for evil the concept of magic that was formed in the Middle Ages has its roots in the very basic, as I have said, of European culture and passes along three axes:

The classical basis linked to the Roman world, connected to the native culture of Europe, that is, tradition and beliefs of the Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, and Christian people.

The interaction of these first two items with Christianity, through conflicts and assimilations, came to deeply affect the Christian religion as we know it today.

Starting from the first point, one can see that this marginalization of the witch's council and of the very question of magic goes directly to the very etymology of the word magic. This origin is linked in antiquity to the Greco-Roman world and mainly here in the origin of the word in Latin Magos, which derives from an ancient Persian word to designate a wise man a man of knowledge, and mainly the man possessed of the management of the art of astrology.

And also, some forms of sorcery, the magi call an ambivalent position within societies and we will find their most well worked out form in the figure of the three Magi, who were pagan foreigners, educated, probably from Persia, whose practice of theology led them directly to the birthplace of Jesus Christ, the term magi, so basically you have a foreigner understood here both literally and figuratively. As someone living on the borders of normal society, and who had mastery of the secret knowledge to do things like making predictions from the entrails of animals, make incantations, interpret oracles, provide amulets from magic stones or made from animal parts remembering that this respect and also awe of this hidden knowledge and power was already expressed there in classical literature in authors like Pliny, an author who lived in the 20 and 30 of our era, and who can be found in his natural history and who eventually migrated to the Middle Ages through Christianity.

The second element that provided the basis for the construction of this notion of magic and that was decisive in the marginalization mainly of the feminine, linking the girl and magic we will find in the beliefs and customs of the Celtic, Germanic and Slavic peoples, despite the few written records referring to these peoples and that survived mainly through Christian writers, we find works linked to the oral tradition of these peoples that help us understand the place of practices that would later become associated would be understood as magic, that is, you will see practices if you think administered and polytheistic including contact with spiritual entities in the natural world make treatments to cause prevent or cure ills carry amulets to ward off the spiritual entity.

The use of urns, the giving of specific places or trees, that is practices that would be classified as magical by Christian authors, but that within their own cultures they were just part of natural medicine or religious worship, that is to say, what is a natural practice for the Celts turned out to be magic to Christian eyes. And this we will see mainly in three works that had permeated these practices that are the Irish epic Táin Bó Cúailge, the Welsh Mabinogi, and the Icelandic Edda, already the third element in the construction of the concept of magic and that was with cement concerning the previous two, was Christianity. St. Augustine was one of the first and main catholic thinkers in the middle ages that built this vision of the church about magic. St. Augustine condemned magic completely, but ironically he also believed that these powers could be used for good purposes in specific cases. in this mixture of accommodation and conflict, we can see how Christianity itself absorbed some of these practices.

This is something that was inherited from the world, let's call it the pagan world, and that today is seen in the Christian liturgy, in moments of the Eucharist, and also in practices of exorcism. Another manifestation of this is the belief between supernatural powers of material things such as the medieval devotion to relics of saints, like bones, locks of hair, among other things and that today survive with the example understands you baptize and bless elements like crucifixes, but once built this understanding of magic.

What would be the main vehicle through this magic to reach Witches?

This is what we will see in the next text in the figure of the Devil.

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