In the contemporary world filled with technologies and based on them many individuals continue to reject materialistic ideas. These people tend to believe in non-material abstract forces that can have strong impacts on the world around and humans namely. This point of view in the modern world is commonly seen as old fashioned or even primitive. In order to study sets of beliefs that employ magic and spiritualism scholars such as anthropologists refer to tribal societies of various ethnicities and research their mindsets, ideas, perceptions and understandings.
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Humans that believe in science and the ones that trust in spirits and supernatural powers have one very important trait in common. All of them are united by the desire for order. Ever since ancient times humans tried to understand the processes happening in the world around them, for that they had to observe, compare, find similarities and categorize the knowledge obtained empirically. This sequence is what lies in the basis of the process of cognition, which remained the same through the thousands of years. Strauss identifies this tendency as the “demand for order” (6).
Finding patterns and establishing order is the way human mind works. Spiritualistic approach towards medicine is rather popular all around the world. Many anthropologists have observed shaman rituals and healings that actually were successful; the patients were relieved from their pains. It is hard to establish whether this was the effect of self-suggestion or real supernatural powers, but the popularity of the spiritualism I medicine is determined by the percentage of its positive outcomes (Finkler 179).
According to Frazer, sympathetic magic relies on two main laws – the Law of Similarities, which is the base of homeopathic or imitative medicine, and the Law of Contact, which supports the contagious magic (13). Sympathetic magic is still widely used by the shamans all over the world. It is based on the belief that similar procedures and actions have the same effects, so if the doctor pretended to be the patient and committed an act of healing on themselves the patient would feel a relief. The healing ritual could also be put into practice with the use of some object belonging to a patient or representing the patient (Frazer 19). The belief in such magic is mainly based on the abstract thinking of the earlier generations of people, who used to see connections between people and nature, objects and their owners, animals and humans, actions and feelings.
In some of the world’s societies magical forces and witchcraft are treated as absolutely normal parts of everyday life (Evans-Pritchard 21). The acceptance of supernatural powers lies very deeply in people’s minds. In the ancient times when there were no scientific proofs of certain processes happening about us witchcraft was the way to explain the unexplainable and set the order in the rapidly changing unpredictable world. Believing in magic and supernatural powers is quite essential for the societies that daily dace a lot on unfamiliar phenomena they do not how to qualify. Accepting the fact that this world is filled with powerful forces that may alter it and influence people’s lives in negative and positive ways is the means of dealing with fear of the unknown and stress related to it.
From the point of view of anthropology belief in magic is worldwide because it is a natural reaction of a human mind to the disorder and unpredictability in the world around and its inability to categorize, rationalize or comprehend it.
Evans-Pritchard, Edward Evan. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976. Print.
Finkler, Kaja. “Sacred Healing and Biomedicine Compared”. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 8. 2 (1994): 178-197. Print.
Frazer, James George. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. New York: Touchstone, 1996. Print.
Strauss, Claude Levi. The Savage Mind. Trans. Weidenfield George. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962. Print.