The Place of Magic in the Intellectual History of Europe

The Place of Magic in the Intellectual History of Europe

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The Place of Magic in the Intellectual History of Europe

The Place of Magic in the Intellectual History of Europe

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Excerpt

To men of the past--how long ago does not at present matter--magic meant far more than the performance for their amusement of clever tricks, which however puzzling they knew well enough were based upon illusion and deception. There was a real magic for them.

This faith in the reality of magic was not, moreover, merely the outcome of men's belief in the existence of evil spirits, in the power of those spirits to work changes in matter or to predict the future, and in man's power to gain their services. We sometimes speak of magic and necromancy as if they were identical, and mediæval writers often did the same thing, but such is not the case. If we but consider the meaning of the word "magic" when used as an adjective, we perceive that thus to restrict its scope as a noun is incorrect. What is a magic cloak, for instance? It is simply a cloak possessing properties which cloaks in general do not possess and which we are surprised to find in cloaks. Most cloaks keep us warm or improve our personal appearance; this cloak makes us invulnerable and invisible. A demon or a fairy may have endowed the cloak with these extraordinary qualities, but that is a secondary consideration. What makes the garment a magic cloak is the fact that it has such properties, no matter where or how it got them. Or what is a magic change? Is it merely a change wrought by spirits good or evil? By no means.

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