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Magic in the Middle Ages - Jewish vs. Christian Perspectives

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick,talk.religion.misc
From: nagasiva 
Subject: Re: Magic in the Middle Ages - Jewish vs. Christian Perspectives
Date: Thu, 14 Feb 2002 07:49:42 GMT

50020213 VI om

John Bilodeau wrote "Magic in the Middle Ages --
Jewish vs Christian Perspectives", an essay stored at

and originally posted to alt.magick in December 2001
(extremely interesting essay!) including this premise:

> It is perhaps obvious from the preceding statements
> that my own definition of magic, for the purposes of
> this discussion, must be vague and plastic, if the
> medieval perception of magic is to be given a chance
> to express itself.

with this it is quite easy to agree. after the essay is
over, and you are done speaking of history, you may wish
to firm up your parameters. 

so I'll here argue why there should be limitations on
what constitutes magic outside the kind of context in
which you were speaking (one into which I'm hoping to
draw you for more candid discussion).

> In the interest of circumscribing the topic, I will 
> consider magical any phenomenon that is considered 
> supernatural that has an element of human involvement. 

we are here left to ponder the meaning of 'supernatural'.
as this was your only mention of the term in your essay,
which seems a weakness. where the realm 'natural' is
allowed to frolic, no more magic will take place.

> I will not distinguish between a religious act and a 
> magical one.

makes sense. I don't see any hard and fast distinction
necessary between the two anyway. they seem to me to be
of two distinct characters (religious is more communal,
magical is more individual), but they blend into one
another quite easily, there being groups of magicians
and individual mystics and spiritualists. however, I shall
look for reasons to separate them below.

>   A prayer that is answered will be considered as 
>   magical as a successful incantation, 

this much is supportable.

>   a prophet's dream of the future will be
>   considered a diviner's successful augury.

but here you step beyond the notion of
intentionality. the prophet's dream is not
intentional, though the result of the diviner
is certainly so. so in this expansive consider-
ation you are ignoring the oft-claimed defining
quality of at least (and especially successful)
magic -- the ability to call it at will, to be
capable of demonstrating it, even if under quite
peculiar conditions.

> I propose that we allow
> the medieval Jewish and Christian authorities the
> privilege of creating the distinctions between magic
> and religion.

for each religion their authority may set these,
agreed. it would be helpful if they also defined
their terms in even such broad generalizations as
you have laid out here for your essay. typically
they do not, however, and a terminological tar pit
must be navigated in struggling to comprehend
the motivations and mechanisms involved in the
behaviour of some religious as regards magic,
divination and sometimes even alchemy.

> From these distinctions we will perhaps
> be able to divine for ourselves what magic meant to
> both European Jews and Christians in this period.

clever turn of phrase there. beyond what it may have
meant to people who are now dead and gone, how do you
think what these people believed about magic and the
world has come to influence the world into which you
were born and the world today? what evidence of this
influence may be readily seen around us, if any?

>  ...
> A definition of magic must exist in the mind of
> the individual before belief in magic can grow
> or fade, 

logically false on its face. a number of beliefs
ABOUT magic may be accepted without any of them
being correct, coherent, or consistent enough to
obtain a concise definition.

> and of course before any practice that is
> considered magical can be performed or
> persecuted.

ambiguous on its face. 'considered magical' can
be applied to any number of considerers. in this
context it seems to imply consideration by those
who are doing it, but the mention of persecution
frees up any limitation on who is considering.

so I don't think a definition in the mind of the
thinker needs be required in order to make the
ASSOCIATION of the term 'magical' with a thing.
it may be common to consider something wondrous
to be 'magical' and yet be unable to reconcile
one's thoughts and feelings surrounding the very
diverse notions about magic one believes or
suspects based on vague or hazy evidence.

for example, my Uncle Ernie tells me that, besides
the hovering alien invaders in the clouds above
every city on the planet, he knows that there is
a magical force at work increasing the usage of
satellite dishes. from this conversation I might,
as a youngster, get a vague concept of what the
term 'magical' means (unexplained? 'supernatural'?)
but will arrive at no necessary definition,
especially when Uncle Ernie seems so worried about
the dishes, too, while Aunt Zelda is very excited
about the magical circles she and her other lesbian
friends are going to in the woods on retreats with
lots of fun and sex and stuff. something doesn't
quite connect, so a definition has to wait a while.
sometimes these definitions simply never materialize.
why need they, except in forums and discussions such
as this?

thanks for the essay. it was lovely. I hope you keep
posting to this forum, for I enjoy your expression.

blessed beast!

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