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The Golden Bough

Chapter 3. Sympathetic Magic
1. The Principles of Magic
IF we analyse the principles of thought on which magic is based, they will probably be
found to resolve themselves into two: first, that like produces like, or that an effect
resembles its cause; and, second, that things which have once been in contact with each
other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been
severed. The former principle may be called the Law of Similarity, the latter the Law of
Contact or Contagion. From the first of these principles, namely the Law of Similarity,
the magician infers that he can produce any effect he desires merely by imitating it: from
the second he infers that whatever he does to a material object will affect equally the
person with whom the object was once in contact, whether it formed part of his body or
not. Charms based on the Law of Similarity may be called Homoeopathic or Imitative
Magic. Charms based on the Law of Contact or Contagion may be called Contagious
Magic. To denote the first of these branches of magic the term Homoeopathic is perhaps
preferable, for the alternative term Imitative or Mimetic suggests, if it does not imply, a
conscious agent who imitates, thereby limiting the scope of magic too narrowly. For the
same principles which the magician applies in the practice of his art are implicitly
believed by him to regulate the operations of inanimate nature; in other words, he tacitly
assumes that the Laws of Similarity and Contact are of universal application and are not
limited to human actions. In short, magic is a spurious system of natural law as well as a
fallacious guide of conduct; it is a false science as well as an abortive art. Regarded as a
system of natural law, that is, as a statement of the rules which determine the sequence of
events throughout the world, it may be called Theoretical Magic: regarded as a set of
precepts which human beings observe in order to compass their ends, it may be called
Practical Magic. At the same time it is to be borne in mind that the primitive magician
knows magic only on its practical side; he never analyses the mental processes on which
his practice is based, never reflects on the abstract principles involved in his actions. With
him, as with the vast majority of men, logic is implicit, not explicit: he reasons just as he
digests his food in complete ignorance of the intellectual and physiological processes
which are essential to the one operation and to the other. In short, to him magic is always
an art, never a science; the very idea of science is lacking in his undeveloped mind. It is
for the philosophic student to trace the train of thought which underlies the magician's
practice; to draw out the few simple threads of which the tangled skein is composed; to
disengage the abstract principles from their concrete applications; in short, to discern the
spurious science behind the bastard art.
If my analysis of the magician's logic is correct, its two great principles turn out to be
merely two different misapplications of the association of ideas. Homoeopathic magic is
founded on the association of ideas by similarity: contagious magic is founded on the
association of ideas by contiguity. Homoeopathic magic commits the mistake of
assuming that things which resemble each other are the same: contagious magic commits
the mistake of assuming that things which have once been in contact with each other are
always in contact. But in practice the two branches are often combined; or, to be more
 
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