The Meanings of Magic
The establishment of a new journal titled Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft begs the question: what do these words mean? In what sense do they comprise a useful academic category or field of inquiry? The history of magic and the cultural functions it has played and continues to play in many societies have been a focus of scholarship for well over one hundred years. Grand anthropological and sociological theories developed mostly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries offer clear structures, and the classic definitions of Edward Burnett Taylor, James Frazer, Emile Durkheim, and others still reverberate through much scholarly work on this topic. While aspects of these theories remain useful, more recent studies have tended to take a much narrower approach, examining the specific forms that magic, magical rites, or witchcraft assume and the issues they create in particular periods and within particular societies.
This article is from Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 1(2006): 1-23, doi:10.1353/mrw.0.0052. Posted with permission.