Unlike other earlier scholars who had treated the practice of magic as a psychological phenomenon, Mauss postulated that the practice of magic had an origin in the social organization of the society. Mauss’ work is of great interest to anthropologists because of the approach that he had followed in coming up with the general theory of magic.
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Here, Mauss tried to establish a social pattern that contributed to the practice of magic by studying different societies. Among the most common practices in the Christian fraternity, which, for the purpose of this paper, can be classified as magical, one could mention the practice of speaking in tongues. In this paper, I will explore how the practice of speaking in tongues is integrated with magical aspects as proposed by Mauss.
A number of elements that are included in magic practices can (at least to some extent) be associated with the practice of speaking in tongues. If preachers can be classified as magicians because of their role in initiating the speaking of tongues on their followers. So, for the purpose of this paper, they can be considered as magicians.
Does the practice of speaking in tongues involve some rituals? Before they can speak in tongues, a congregation of followers is usually taught the concept of the Holy Spirit from the Bible. Consequently, believers are encouraged to accept the Bible’s teachings on the gift of the Holy Spirit (who is responsible for the phenomenon of speaking in tongues). It is, therefore, difficult to place such a process on the same line as a ritualistic process.
Do Christians use magical words to cast a spell of speaking in tongues? There are no specific words that must be used to catalyze/start the process of speaking in tongues among Christians. What is required for believers to speak in tongues is a belief in the Bible teachings about the Holy Spirit, after which they can ask God to give them the power to speak in tongues through prayers. Christians do not believe that they have to follow a specific pattern to be able to speak in tongues. Still, there is some loose and general procedure that is followed.
Can the practice of speaking in tongues be considered as a social phenomenon? First, as Mauss might have correctly argued, Christianity is an institution that pre-exists a believer. One is born to find Christianity beliefs already in place. Hence, he/she does not design a new belief system on his/her own. Likewise, teachings on the practice of speaking in tongues have existed for many centuries.
As Mauss might have correctly implied, Christian believers were usually “pressurized upon” and expected to start speaking in tongues during meetings that focused on the aspect of speaking in tongues. Thus, since the practice of speaking in tongues does not solely depend on an individual’s effort, it can be considered as a social phenomenon.
Finally, although the general Christian beliefs, including the practice of speaking in tongues are based on a belief in a supernatural force, Christians do not believe that this supernatural force is alienated from humanity, and that they can dwell in objects (although they can live in humans). As it was noted by Mauss, the principle of mana did not apply equally here.
So, multiple aspects that are present in the practice of speaking in tongues can relate (even if to a limited extent) to some of Mauss’ propositions on the practice of magic. However, due to some marked differences between Mauss’ propositions and what Christians believe and do, it is difficult to define the act of speaking in tongues as a magical practice in terms of Mauss’ theory on Magic.