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Witchcraft Past and Present
The word ‘magic’ comes to us from ‘magea’, the Greek word which itself derives from ‘magoi’. The Magoi were a caste of Persian priests who studied astrology and practised divination. It was not just in Persia (modern-day Iran) that these arts were practised thousands of years ago. All over the world, in every primitive society, men and women looked to the stars for guidance and the spirit world for inspiration.
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These our ancestors worshipped their gods who, they
believed, looked after the spirits of those who had died and gone to live
in the spirit world. In most, if not all, of these societies there was one
person, usually a man, who was regarded by the others as being able to
communicate with ancestral spirits. Today, we call such a person ‘the
There are many parts of the developing world in which the
shaman continues to play a major role in small communities.
As part of his (or very occasionally her) role, the shaman performed
rituals and made magic. Rituals help to demarcate the ordinary and the
extraordinary, focusing attention on aspects of the cosmic process, which
were believed to control every aspect of life.
Magic was an integral part
of these rituals and it is fair to say that some magical elements survive
in the religions of today and that most of these religions have their roots
in some aspect of shamanic practice.
As an example of the former, some
Roman Catholics believe that during the Mass, consecrated wine turns
into the blood of Christ and bread into His body (although the majority
have now come to see the bread and the wine as symbolic rather than
actual). And to exemplify the latter, Sufis believe that in entering a state
of ecstasy brought about by intense physical exercise, their holy men can communicate with their god.