Sympathetic Magic Magick


Mud Volcanoe

Besides such magical procedures, which were incidental to the incantation, there was a host of operations in which the activity really took precedence. Not many required such heroic feats as the recipe for a spring which prescribed that one “dig his thumbs into virgin soil to the depth of a mile”! Most, a good deal easier of performance, were of the type that Frazer has characterized as sympathetic magic (comprising the two divisions, homeopathic or imitative, and contagious), in which the magician’s acts were supposed to be duplicated on the person of his subject or in nature. The outstanding instance of this type of magic is the world-wide practice of attempting to injure or destroy an enemy by injuring or destroying a representation of him. Its survival may be observed even today in the more innocuous custom of burning or hanging a hated political figure in effigy. Behind the demonstration there lurks, we may be sure, the wish, if not the expectation, that the person of the victim might experience the fate thus visited upon his double.

During the Middle Ages this death-spell, the most terrible of all, was widely employed and universally feared; serf and king were overwhelmed with dread at the thought of the terrible fate that might at any moment be in the making for them through such machinations. There are many accounts of image-magic directed against the persons of high-placed people. In 1574 a Florentine, Cosmo Ruggieri, was arrested for having made a waxen image with hostile intent against Charles IX; the king died a month later of a mysterious consumption. In 1560 a waxen image of Queen Elizabeth, with a large pin stuck in the breast, was found in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and aroused consternation in the English court. The Sword of Moses, written during the Geonic period, contains one such prescription: “If you wish to kill a man, take mud from the two sides of the river and form it into the shape of a figure, and write upon it the name of the person, and take seven branches from seven strong palm-trees, and make a bow from reed with the string of horse-sinew, and place the image in a hollow, and stretch the bow and shoot with it, and…..

Joshua Trachtenberg, [1939]