Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Book: Magic, Science, Religion by Bronislaw Malinowski

I only read the portions of the essays related to magic and how primitive people used it. Very interesting. Salient points - ideas about demons and spirits, etc, came out of primitive people trying to understand dreams. They didn't know how to process the dreams and believed dead people (who they dreamed about) were visiting them from the spirit world. Sort of makes sense if you don't understand neurons and how the brain works. Also, a lot of magic rituals were performed in conjunction with run-of-the-mill tasks. For instance, magic rituals were performed after seeding and tilling a field for a crop. Or before war fighting. Or before going deep sea fishing. Or in trying to woo a mate. The author theorized most magic rituals dealt with activities where chance and luck had a lot to do with the outcome. So, in a way, magic was a way of dealing with the anxiety of the unknown and a way of dealing with powerlessness. From an anthropologic point of view, this makes sense. People who DID NOT practice magic rituals were more likely to be faced with crushing anxiety and to curl up in a little ball in the face of danger and the unknown - like before going into battle or facing a horrific storm in the ocean, or when their love is unrequited. From a "survival" point of view, the folks who practiced magic rituals as a way of saying "i can control or help control" whether my crop yield is good this year, or whether so-and-so will let me have sex with them, or I will defeat this guy in battle when I cast a spell on him, were more likely to succeed than the person who tossed up his or her hands and said, "I got no control over this thing." In short, it was a lot about optimism and false sense of control and the habits/rituals were passed down and believed by generations of peoples. Very interesting, I thought.

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