By John Halstead
In an excellent essay entitled, “The New Old Paganism”, Ronald Hutton reviews the history of “magic” as a concept among academicians. Starting with James Frazer, magic was defined in contradistinction to religion, the latter consisting of petitioning supernatural powers for favors and praising them, the former consisting of human manipulation of supernatural powers. Later, Ruth Benedict posited a continuum on which both religion and magic exist. Magic continued thereafter to be distinguished by “the concrete specificity of its goals, a manipulative attitude, [and] an instrumental character”. In 1970, Dorothy Hammond suggested that magic should be included within religion as one type of religious practice, and contrasted not with religion, but with prayer, sacrifice, etc.
Following Hammond, I offer the following tentative definitions which attempt to distinguish certain magico-religious practices based on whether the goal of the practice is to effect an objective change in the world or a subjective change in oneself. These are listed in an order the degree of their instrumental character. Those practices that seek only subjective change, as well as non-instrumental religious practices, are arguably not incompatible with modern science.