- Series: Routledge Classics
- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (May 25, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415253969
- ISBN-13: 978-0415253963
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,002,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A General Theory of Magic (Routledge Classics) (Volume 37) 2nd Edition
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Setting themselves most distinctly against James Frazer's theory of magic as 'sympathetic action' (in which like causes produce like effects - as in: water magic producing rain, etc), 'A General Theory's' most immediate goal is in fact to show how magic cannot be understood in terms of any one of its disparate elements; not this or that magical principle defines magic, but rather its 'totality' as a phenomenon - one including magical actors, beliefs, rituals, objects, traditions and representations, all of which, only when taken together, properly delimit the field of magic.
In a word: magic is a social phenomenon. A strange result! After all, isn't magic instead a furtive practice, one done in candle-lit cravens and in the shadows of society? True, say Mauss and Hubert, but close attention to the actual practice of magic nonetheless reveals its highly orchestrated and tightly regulated character: spells are formulas, indifferent to meaning ("abracadabra!") while magical objects simply 'play the part' in rites and rituals largely uncaring as to their specificity; in all things magic, it is in fact convention which rules its operation.
Having established this already important result however, for Mauss and Hubert, the heart of magic lies deeper still - not just any social phenomenon, but one involving the exercise of 'magical causality': a type of causality running in 'parallel', as it were, with the everyday, pedestrian causes we are all familiar with. In turn, this magical causality is premised on a kind of force - familiar with every video game player - here dubbed 'mana'. Now, the ambiguities surrounding the invocation of 'mana' are multiple and well known, but they can be summed up by asking whether all of this is just to say that magic is... well, magical. So the success of 'A General Theory' isn't a given, but as far as starts go, it's a damn fine one.
Mauss mentions sympathetic magic as being part of many cultures as does O'Keefe. Mauss might have been interested in Jung's concept of synchronicity as a form of sympathetic magic or even the concept of apophenia if he had lived when the word was created in the late 1950s.
This book does not explain how magic works. Those looking for a how-to will be disappointed as another reviewer has pointed out.