Sympathetic Magic

  • James George Frazer


If we analyse the principles of thought on which magic is based, they will probably be found to resolve themselves into two: first, that like produces like, or that an effect resembles its cause; and, second, that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed. The former principle may be called the Law of Similarity, the latter the Law of Contact or Contagion. From the first of these principles, namely the Law of Similarity, the magician infers that he can produce any effect he desires merely by imitating it: from the second he infers that whatever he does to a material object will affect equally the person with whom the object was once in contact, whether it formed part of his body or not. Charms based on the Law of Similarity may be called Homoeopathic or Imitative Magic. Charms based on the Law of Contact or Contagion may be called Contagious Magic. To denote the first of these branches of magic the term Homoeopathic is perhaps preferable, for the alternative term Imitative or Mimetic suggests, if it does not imply, a conscious agent who imitates, thereby limiting the scope of magic too narrowly. For the same principles which the magician applies in the practice of his art are implicitly believed by him to regulate the operations of inanimate nature; in other words, he tacitly assumes that the Laws of Similarity and Contact are of universal application and are not limited to human actions.


Filial Piety Yellow Wagtail Inanimate Nature Supreme Power Wooden Image 


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • James George Frazer
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Trinity CollegeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.OxfordUK
  3. 3.Cambridge and DurhamUK
  4. 4.GlasgowUK
  5. 5.Universities of Paris and StrasbourgFrance

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