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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia

Witchcraft: By Charm and Spell

This article was written by Scott Cunningham on May 10, 2002
posted under Witchcraft

Folk magic was born in an age of wonder. Tens of thousands of years ago, nature was a mysterious force. Points of light swung far overhead in the sky. Invisible forces ruffled matted hair and kicked up dust storms. Water fell from above. Powerful forces, inconceivable to humans, sent flashes of light from the skies, blasting trees into raging infernos. Women miraculously bore young. All that moved eventually died. Blood was sacred. Food was sacred. Water, the Earth, plants, animals, the wind and all that existed was infused with power.

Magic—as well as religion and science—sprang from the actions of the first humans who tried to understand, contact and gain some control over such forces. Ritual developed as a means of uniting with the source of this universal energy. Gestures, rhythm, symbols, music, dance and the spoken word were used in ritual to shift the awareness to these higher powers.

Folk magic slowly developed from these beginnings. Every group, every tribe and civilization had its own forms of ritual. Folk magic differed from structured religion and state magic—this was the realm of personal magic, performed for personal reasons. A woman dressed a wound with a plantain leaf that she had gathered with her left hand to increase its healing properties. The fisherman rubbed his bone hooks with flowers to attract fish. Love-sick youths gathered heart-shaped stones and presented these to the objects of their desire.

These simple rituals continued to be used for many thousands of years, particularly in isolated areas. Then, a new organized religion, sprung up in the Near East after the death of a Jewish prophet, flexed its growing political muscles, sweeping across Europe. As country after country "converted," many of the old ways of folk magic were forgotten. Others were altered to outwardly conform to the new religion. That magic that could not be made to at least vaguely conform to the new religion was practiced in secret. The days were over when the old European charms and spells were a part of everyday life.

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